CLEVELAND — Head down a supermarket aisle looking for eggs and you’re bound to get sticker shock: Prices for them jumped 60% last year. There have been some recent price breaks, but eggs are still expensive. With an eye toward saving you money, Consumer Reports sifted through several labels on egg cartons to explain what they actually mean and whether or not it’s worth paying a premium.
A lot of the terms on egg cartons don’t really have a defined meaning. And if you’re going to pay a high price for eggs, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting.
Let’s start off with labels you can ignore, like “farm fresh,” “natural,” and “no hormones.” All eggs are from farms and all eggs are natural, so “farm fresh” and “natural” have no meaning. And by law, chickens can’t be given hormones. So a carton of eggs that has one or more of these claims isn’t any different from a carton that doesn’t.
“Cage-free” is another misleading label. While it’s true the hens aren’t kept in cages, they can still be kept indoors, often in crowded conditions.
The “free-range” label is also dubious. Free-range birds aren’t kept in cages, and they have outdoor access, but they can still be raised in crowded conditions, and the outdoor area can be very tiny.
If the egg carton has an “organic” seal, it means the eggs were laid by hens fed grains grown without most synthetic pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The birds can’t be raised in cages and must have outdoor access, though that could still mean confined conditions in a building with just a small concrete porch.
“Pasture-raised” on its own isn’t meaningful. But if it’s paired with the Certified Humane label, you can be sure the chickens had access to a pasture with space to do chicken things like pecking for seeds and bugs.
So if buying eggs from healthier hens who were raised in more humane conditions is important to you, choose ones labeled “pasture raised,” but be prepared to pay more, well over $5 per dozen.