If grocery shopping leaves you overwhelmed in the egg aisle, you’re not alone. There are so many different labels on egg cartons: free-range, cage-free, local, hormone-free. Organic eggs vs. pastured raised is a particularly confusing comparison, so what’s the difference?
Organic eggs are laid by chickens having only been fed a certified organic diet with no GMOs or animal by-products. Pastured raised eggs come from hens foraging grasses, seeds and insects outside. These chickens also eat feed, but it is not their primary diet.
Studies show both organic and pasture-raised eggs have healthier nutritional content than conventional eggs. In this article, you’ll learn more about organic and pasture-raised eggs as we’ll look more closely at their nutritional content and farming practices.
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Does Organic Mean Pasture Raise?
Organic and pasture-raised are not the same. Organic eggs come from hens eating organic chicken feed, meaning no GMO ingredients and no by-products. Pasture-raised eggs are laid by chickens spending most of their time outside and eating a diet of plants, insects, seeds and some chicken feed.
Both are higher in vitamins A and E, and omega-3 fatty acids, than conventional eggs. They might sound like they must be a healthy or humane choice, but the practices behind these labels are often unclear 1.
Which kind of egg is better? There are pros and cons to both varieties.
Organic Eggs vs Pasture Raised: Nutrients
|Pasture Raised Eggs
|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||30 mg|
|Iron||0.7 mg||1.1 mg|
|Vitamin A||90 mcg||120 mcg|
|Vitamin D||1 mcg||1 mcg|
The nutrients of both eggs are very similar until it gets to the minerals and vitamins. Calories, protein, fat and cholesterol are almost the same. The pasture raised eggs contain more potassium, calcium, iron and Vitamin A 2.
Organic Eggs Vs Pasture Eggs: Pros and Cons
Since eggs come from chickens, you would think eggs are organic by definition, and you’d be right.
But 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 3.
Pros of Organic Eggs
There are some advantages to buying and eating organic eggs.
- They are free of GMOs. Conventional chicken feed, or mash, contains non-organic corn, soy and grains. In addition, the feed does not have to be organic, therefore it often includes GMO corn or soy. Organic chicken feed must use organic components, so no GMOs will be included in the ingredients.
- They come from happier chickens. The USDA regulations require organic hens have year-round access to the outdoors, which is far more humane than the battery cages on conventional farms. Those practices have been outlawed in Europe 4, and animal welfare scientists have found those conditions cause abnormal and harmful behaviors in chickens.
As of 2020, six states in the United States have passed laws banning the use of battery cages for egg production 5.
Cons of Organic Eggs
Now we’ll consider some of the downsides of organic eggs.
- They may not come from well-fed chickens. Even though the ingredients are more controlled than in conventional feed, organic feed is not necessarily nutritionally complete. Chickens eating organic diets may not get enough essential protein, which contributes to the nutrition of their eggs 6.
- They are not much healthier than conventional eggs. Studies on the nutrients found in conventional and organic eggs show there is not much of a difference 7 between the two. Compared to eggs from hens fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, organic and conventional eggs were considered almost the same 8.
- They may not come from the best settings. The USDA regulations for organic egg-laying require hens have access to outdoor space throughout the year. This means the chickens can roam wide fields, but they may have only a small yard or screened porch next to their barn.
Pasture-raised eggs come from chickens spending most of their time outdoors foraging. The nonprofit group Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) ensures farms producing pasture-raised eggs maintain 108 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space for each hen.
Pros of Pasture Raised Eggs
Pasture-raised eggs have several advantages over conventional and organic eggs.
- Pasture-raised eggs are healthier than conventional eggs. Chickens with pasture access engage in natural behaviors, like foraging for insects and seeds. They also get more exercise and sunlight than conventionally farmed chickens 9.
- A 2010 study published by Cambridge University Press showed that pasture-raised eggs have higher concentrations of vitamins and omega-3s.
- They are rich in Vitamin D. We need vitamin D for healthy functioning, but this deficiency is widespread. Nearly 1 billion people across the world are low in vitamin D.
- One 2014 study found eggs laid by hens who spent time outside had 3-4 times more vitamin D than hens who stayed indoors 10.
- Pasture egg farming leads to better agricultural practices. Hens are excellent farmworkers. They weed the pasture as they forage and eat insects that could harm crops or require pesticides. They also fertilize the ground with their excrement.
- The HFAC requirement for rotating the pastures gives each field time to recover and grow. Farmers use less equipment and pesticides thanks to busy chickens.
Cons of Pasture Raised Eggs
- “Pasture-raised” is an unregulated label. This means the USDA does not have a requirement farms must meet to label their eggs “pasture-raised.” However, third-party groups like the HFAC evaluate farms based on their standards. Products labeled “Certified Humane” have met these requirements for outdoor and indoor conditions.
- Chickens may not get everything they need from pasture. They may need supplemental feed to match conventional chickens in weight and egg-laying.
- Pasture-raised is not organic. Unless the label also says organic, the supplemental feed could contain GMO components.
Organic Eggs vs Pasture Raised: Which Are Better?
It’s unlikely you’ll find one product that meets your dietary, environmental, and financial needs. The best eggs for you depend on your concerns. Therefore let’s answer both of these questions:
Is pasture raised eggs better than organic? Pasture raised eggs are better than organic because they have more nutritional value and are produced on farms where the hens have more space to roam.
Are organic eggs better than pasture raised? Organic eggs are better than pasture raised because they come from chickens who are not fed GMOs.
To determine which eggs are better, you’ll need to choose your eggs based on what’s most important to you. Organic eggs come from chickens who are not fed GMOs, while pasture-raised eggs have nutritional advantages and are produced on farms where hens have more space.
That might be happy chickens, healthy eggs and natural agricultural practices, or non-GMO feed and USDA regulations.
Organic Eggs vs Pasture Raised: Which Cost More?
I checked three different supermarkets located in the same area and compared the prices between organic and pasture raised eggs. Which eggs cost more, organic or pasture raised?
Organic eggs cost more than pasture raised eggs. The average price for one dozen organic eggs is $4.55 and the average price for one dozen pasture raised eggs is $3.62.
The stores, brands and prices are listed below.
Egg Lands Best (Brand)
- Organic, Large (1 Dozen) $5.49
- Pasture Raised, Large (1 Dozen) $4.39
- Organic, large (1 Dozen) $2.98
- Pasture Raised, Large (1 Dozen) $2.48
Stop & Shop (Store)
Nature’s Promise (Brand)
- Organic, Large (1 Dozen) $5.19
- Pasture Raised, Large (1 Dozen) $3.99
Do pasture raised eggs have to be organic? Pasture raised eggs do not have to be organic. Although some pasture raised eggs are fed organic feed, pasture raised eggs don’t have to be fed organic feed.
Are pasture raised eggs healthier? Pasture raised eggs are healthier because they contain more potassium, vitamin A, calcium and iron than organic eggs.
What are the disadvantages of organic eggs? Disadvantages of organic eggs are they are more expensive and their nutritional value is similar to conventional eggs. The chickens from organic eggs have outside access, but the area doesn’t have to be a large natural area.
Are organic eggs worth the cost? Organic eggs are worth the cost if it’s important for you to eat eggs from chickens not given hormones, drugs, genetically modified food and free of animal by-products.
Wrapping Up Organic and Pasture Raised Eggs
Organic 11 and pasture-raised eggs are both healthier choices than conventional eggs and they both come from farms with humane conditions 12. The chickens laying these eggs are treated far better than conventional chickens.
Whatever you choose, any egg is a healthy addition to your kitchen and body.
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- Cambridge University Press:Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens
- NutritionData: Pasture-Raised Eggs
- USDA: Guidelines for Organic Certification of Poultry
- Official Journal of the European Communities: Laying down the minimum standards for the protection of laying hens
- Wikipedia: Battery cage
- The Washington Post: People love chickens that are “vegetarian fed.” But chickens are not vegetarians
- Time: Organic Eggs: More Expensive, but No Healthier
- ScienceDirect: Fatty acid composition of certified organic, conventional and omega-3 eggs
- CBC: Are cheaper eggs just as nutritious as organic or free-run options? Marketplace tested 14 brands to find out
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Free-range farming: a natural alternative to produce vitamin D-enriched eggs
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The quality of eggs (organic and nutraceutical vs. conventional) and their technological properties
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: A Microbiomic Analysis of a Pasture-Raised Brioler Flock Elucidates Foodborne Pathogen Ecology Along the Farm-To-Fork Continuum