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Consumers can’t crack the code on humane eggs

Vital Farms currently is the only US egg producer qualified to bear the Certified Humane product label.
Vital Farms currently is the only US egg producer qualified to bear the Certified Humane product label.

Nearly two thirds of US consumers will spend more on speciality eggs, but most don’t fully understand what terms describing humanely raised eggs mean.

A recent consumer poll indicates the majority of American consumers are willing to spend a little more at the grocery store to buy humanely farmed eggs. However, those same consumers do not fully understand what the terms commonly used to indicate humane farming truly mean.

Texas egg producer Vital Farms backed the web-based consumer poll. Half of respondents reported they seek out the free-range label when on the hunt for eggs; slightly less look for cage-free (48%) or organic (47%), and much fewer want pasture-raised (24%).

When asked to define what “free-range” and “cage-free” meant, most consumers thought those terms indicated the eggs were laid by hens happily clucking and running around freely in open pastures. That term, however, describes “pasture-raised” eggs.

Complex issue

Matt O’Hayer, co-founder and CEO of Vital Farms, told FoodProductionDaily the label terms indicate more than simply the way animals are raised.

"This is a taste issue, a nutrition issue, and an animal welfare issue," he said. "Multiple studies show the outdoor lifestyle of pasture-raised hens results in eggs that are richer and tastier, and have added nutritional benefits."

Pasture-raised hens lead the idyllic picture most consumers imagine when seeking out humanely raised eggs. These birds are exposed to sunlight and fresh air, they are rotated to different pastures every few days, and they are brought inside at night for safety.

Free-range hens, by contrast, have only limited outdoor access, with compacted dirt instead of forageable vegetation. Cage-free hens are not in cages, but they normally are packed in a barn with no outdoor access.

The US Department of Agriculture currently has no standards regulating use of humane-egg labels. The term “organic” is the only label term the USDA regulates at this point.

Humane certification

The group Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), however, offers humane egg certification labels. HFAC executive director Adele Douglass said Vital Farms currently is the only US egg brand to earn Certified Humane status, which demonstrates the hens are pasture-raised and treated humanely.

"The only way consumers can be confident they are getting genuine pasture-raised eggs is to look for the Certified Humane label," Douglass said.

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