People today are more concerned about nutrition, hence a boom in organic and free-range food options. When it comes to eggs, more people are opting for organic and free-range eggs over regular ones. However, one may wonder if there are any differences between organic and free-range eggs.
Free range eggs are eggs laid by chickens unraised in cages, whereas organic eggs are eggs laid by chickens having only been fed organic feed without other chemicals or drugs. Organic eggs are high-quality, healthy and nutritious more superior to free range eggs.
This article will discuss the similarities and differences between free-range and organic eggs. In addition, I’ll cover which type of egg is the best in terms of nutrition, cost and several other benefits.
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Organic Eggs vs Free Range Eggs
Organic Eggs Are Certified by the USDA
Organic eggs have several nominal differences from free-range or regular eggs. A truly “organic” egg means that it’s certified by the USDA National Organic Program and complies with its guidelines.
According to the USDA, the guidelines for an organic label are as follows:
- Land. Chickens must be kept in a parcel of land free from prohibited substances (i.e., pesticides, chemicals).
- Feed. Certified organic animals must be fed 100% organic feed: no antibiotics, GMO products, animal by-products or synthetic preserves. Growth hormones, feed supplements or scraps are prohibited.
- Housing. Housing is appropriately sized and waste is managed to reduce the spread of disease. Must be adequately ventilated, given access to fresh food and water and include areas of shade and direct sunlight year-round. Animals are given the opportunity to spend a multitude of time outdoors getting exercise.
- Flock Size. The recommended size for organic birds is between 2,000 and 3,000, opposed to a regular flock size of 16,000.
How To Identify Organic Eggs
With so many choices of eggs on the supermarket shelves, it can get a little confusing at times picking the correct ones. Many of my clients have asked, how do I know if my eggs are organic?
Organic eggs cartons are labeled with the USDA Organic Seal. The seal contains a brown edged circle containing the words USDA Organic. The USDA letters are colored green on a white background and the organic letters are colored white on a green background.
Don’t get fooled by the words, farm fresh, cage free or natural. While true organic eggs may also have the same terms, like Organic Cage Free, always check for the USDA Organic circle.
The organic eggs you see in the grocery store came from farms that follow certain USDA standards. The “organic” label refers to the feed these chickens were given, as well as requirements the USDA sets for living conditions, healthcare and handling 1.
Eggs labeled organic when they know it doesn’t meet the USDA standards are subject to a civil penalty with fines of several thousand dollars 2.
Free Range Eggs Are Often Mislabeled
The term “free-range” in terms of eggs can be disappointingly misleading. One would assume free-range means the eggs have come from chickens able to roam free in the outdoors and behave like chickens freely would in their wild habitat. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
“Free-range” isn’t a label placed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The USDA states “free-range” USDA-grade eggs for consumer packages have to come from hens that live somewhere with unlimited food and water 3.
All the hens must be able to enjoy outdoor time within a fenced or an area covered by a net while they are in the cycle of laying eggs. Sounds great, right? Not necessarily. The term fails to clarify the chickens may not have open access to the actual outdoors.
Free-range can mean there’s simply a door that exits to the outside. Not only this, but free-range chickens can still be given drugs, antibiotics or growth hormones to speed their rate of development and reduce the spread of disease.
In short, this means the promise of free-range isn’t really much different from industrially raised chickens.
Free Range or Organic Eggs: Which is Better?
With so many different factors and statistics to consider, choosing the best egg product can be a difficult question to answer. So which egg is the better, free range or organic?
Organic eggs are better than free range eggs because they are from chickens fed with feed free from antibiotics, GMO, animal-by-products and synthetic preservatives. The chickens who lay organic eggs are kept on land free from pesticides or chemicals.
Organic eggs are the best choice based on the information presented earlier. Certified organic eggs are produced by chickens raised in far superior conditions than free-range chickens.
Free-range chickens may not actually be given the opportunity to spend time outside and may still be exposed to harmful chemicals in their environment or their feed. They can still be given growth hormones, antibiotics or GMO-based products.
Of course, free-range eggs may still be better than regular eggs since the hens laying them are allowed to roam around a designated area. Hens laying regular eggs are not as lucky and often stressed out as they’re forced into tight spaces and have their wings and beaks clipped.
Plus, hens producing regular eggs are typically pumped with drugs and antibiotics, posing health risks.
If you’re interested in learning the difference between pasture raised vs organic, check out my article about it, Organic Eggs Vs Pasture Eggs: A Comparison.
Organic Eggs vs Free Range Eggs – Nutritional Value
|Organic Eggs (1 Large)||Free Range Raised Eggs (1 Large)|
|Fat||4.8 g||5.0 g|
|Protein||6.2 g||6.0 g|
|Cholesterol||186 mg||185 mg|
|Sodium||71 mg||70 mg|
|Potassium||69 mg||70 mg|
|Calcium||20 mg||20 mg|
|Iron||0.7 mg||0.72 mg|
|Vitamin A||90 mcg||120 mcg|
|Vitamin D||1 mcg||1 mcg|
The nutrients of both eggs are very similar. Calories, fat, protein, cholesterol and the vitamins and minerals are almost identical.
One 2014 study found eggs laid by hens who spent time outside had 3-4 times more vitamin D than hens who stayed indoors 4.
Organic Eggs vs Free Range: Which Costs More?
Since organic eggs are the better choice, are organic eggs more expensive?
Organic eggs are more expensive than free range eggs. Organic eggs are from chickens raised under stricter guidelines and different feed which both cost more money than free range chickens.
I checked three different supermarkets located in the same area of the northeaster United States. I compared the prices or organic eggs and free range eggs, here are my results:
Egg Lands Best (Brand)
- Organic, Large (1 Dozen) $5.49
- Free range, Large (1 Dozen) $4.29
- Organic, large (1 Dozen) $2.98
- Free range, Large (1 Dozen) $2.29
Stop & Shop (Store)
Nature’s Promise (Brand)
- Organic, Large (1 Dozen) $5.19
- Free range, Large (1 Dozen) $3.89
Knowing organic eggs cost more 5, money might be tight which causes many people to ask, are organic eggs worth the price?
Organic eggs are worth the price because they are free of antibiotics, drugs and hormones. Chickens laying organic eggs are fed food free of animal-by-products.
I often compare prices of the organic eggs in the supermarket. They are not all priced equally and often I can find a good deal on certain brands or catch the occasional sale.
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Why Organic and Free Range Eggs Are Better Than Conventional
With all the hype over organic and free-range eggs, one might ask what makes these organic and free-range eggs better than conventional eggs?
Organic eggs and free range eggs are better than conventional eggs because chickens laying regular eggs, unlike organic and free range, are kept in crowded living quarters and away from sunlight. Chickens laying regular eggs, unlike organic, are fed antibiotics, hormones and drugs.
To better understand this, let’s explore what constitutes a “regular” egg first. “Regular” eggs make up more than half of the majority produced within the United States.
Categorized as either Grade AA, Grade A or Grade B, these eggs come from chickens “conventionally” raised 6.
Conventionally, chickens live in conditions optimizing egg production, as opposed to maximizing the chickens’ health to produce higher-quality eggs. They’re kept in close quarters, often in cages stacked in towers on top of one another and usually away from sunlight 7.
Frequently chickens in these conditions have their wings and beaks clipped. Chickens with outside access engage in natural behaviors, like foraging for insects and seeds. They also get more exercise and sunlight than conventionally farmed chickens 8.
Chickens in industrial settings lay an average of 320 eggs in their lifetime. A rate so high it affects the strength of their bones and reduces their lifespan by about 70%. The stress these conditions create can cause chickens to become highly aggressive and even cannibalistic.
In addition, these chickens are often pumped full of drugs, hormones and antibiotics reducing the spread of disease and fasten their growth.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 9, there are three categories of eggs, each defined by different characteristics:
- Grade AA: firm egg whites, high yolks, unbroken shell, “practically free from defects.”
- Grade A: “reasonably” firm egg whites, high yolks, unbroken shell, “practically free from defects.”
- Grade B: thin whites, wider yolks, unbroken but stained shells. Not usually as a product in retail outlets, but are instead used in dried or frozen egg products.
After learning about how chickens laying regular eggs are treated and fed, it’s easy to determine organic and free range eggs are better.
Does organic eggs mean free-range? Organic eggs do not mean free range. Organic eggs are from chickens free of antibiotics, drugs and hormones, unlike free range. Chickens laying organic eggs can roam more freely outside on land without pesticides than free range chickens.
Wrapping Up The Organic and Free Range Eggs
While you can find quality free-range eggs in the market, you’re better off choosing organic eggs. That’s because free-range eggs don’t always mean they come from truly free-range hens.
On the other hand, organic eggs are produced by chickens having plenty of time to roam and exercise outside. They’re only given 100% organic feed and have had no exposure to harmful or synthetic substances.
Organic chickens aren’t given any growth hormones or other drugs.
When shopping for the best kind of egg, you should choose organic over free-range every time. If your choice is between free range or conventional, free range is the better of the two.
Read Next – Another Egg Article!
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- USDA: Guidelines for Organic Certification of Poultry
- USDA: How is use of the USDA Organic seal protected?
- USDA: USDA Graded Cage-Free Eggs: All They’re Cracked Up To Be
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Free-range farming: a natural alternative to produce vitamin D-enriched eggs
- USDA: A Momentous Change is Underway in the Egg Case
- USDA: Questions and Answers – USDA Shell Egg Grading Service
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The quality of eggs (organic and nutraceutical vs. conventional) and their technological properties
- CBC: Are cheaper eggs just as nutritious as organic or free-run options? Marketplace tested 14 brands to find out
- USDA: What are the egg grades?