I got a question today, asking if organic eggs were commercial eggs, or if there is a difference. THis question brings out one of the most annoying fact surrounding the sales of eggs in Canada (and elsewhere, but I don’t have a vested interest in those places….). What annoys me is the confusion about the types of eggs that are available…..as the egg farmers have bent over backwards to provide all the different types of eggs, the terms to describe eggs have become overlapping, and confusing.
So…here is retail egg – 101. In general eggs you can buy are commercial. Those you get from backyard flocks are not. Even the ones you pick up from farmers markets or farmers’ little shops are commercial. The majority of eggs from the store are produced by professional egg farmers….people whose primary job is to spend all their working hours looking after hens and producing eggs. Some people who sell eggs at markets or farm gates are professional too…but some are not. This in no way means that they are substandard, it just means that they don’t have enough hens to make a living on. Small groups of hens are cared for after the owner gets home from being an electrician, or a truck driver, or what have you. These birds can be well looked after, but they are not the main focus of the person’s waking life.
The other criteria for eggs have to do with either a) what the birds are fed, or b) how the hens are housed. Omega eggs are produced by birds that are fed higher levels of flax or fish oil, to get a high level of omega-three fatty acids in the yolks of the eggs. There are also eggs high in lutein, eggs with extra vitamins and the egg farmers are constantly working on incorporating other nutrients in eggs they produce.
Free run eggs are produced by hens that roam free inside a barn. They lay eggs in nests, and are not in cages. Free range eggs are produced by birds who roam free inside a barn, and have access to an outside run. Organic eggs are free range hens that are also fed pesticide free grains, do not use antibiotics if the hens get sick, and do not use fungicides, most disinfectants, rodenticides or insecticides in the barn. All other eggs are produced by hens that live in caged housing systems (see my post “Inside a Real Egg Farm”).
Free range, free run, and organic can be either brown or white, but are usually brown in Canada, due to customer preference. Omega eggs are sold in both brown and white varieties, as are high vitamin eggs and lutein enriched eggs.
Just to complicate things further, eggs come in many different sizes, and different carton sizes. Again, if you buy them in the store, they are commercial eggs, and have to meet many quality and food safety criteria before they can be part of the marketing system in Ontario. So….you can buy an 18 pack of extra-large, omega enriched white eggs, or you can buy a half-dozen medium-sized organic brown eggs. Simple, right?
Mike the Chicken Vet.