Eggs are little nutrition bombs and I could not imagine life without eggs! Not all eggs are equal though and the type of eggs you choose to buy has an impact on the health of the hens and yours too.
Many people buy free range eggs, mainly because out of concern for the welfare of the hens. Free range hens do have a better life than caged hens (which frankly, should be banned) but it is still far worse than the life of hens that produce organic eggs. Free range hens are routinely given anti-biotics and often fed GM food. So, from a nutritional point of view, organic eggs are superior.
Organic farms certified by the Soil Association have to provide the highest standard of animal welfare. Free range hens are allowed less space than organically raised hens. Organic flocks are not allowed to be larger than 2000 hens whereas free range flocks can be any size and often 10s of thousands of hens are kept in a single hangar. Organic hens get 10m2 of pasture per bird. Inside the houses, a maximum density of 6 birds per m2 is permitted. Free range hens get less than half that amount of pasture per bird (4m2), and pack 50% more hens into the same living space (9 per m2).
Organic farms provide more exits from the hen house to give the birds the opportunity to roam freely. The pasture has to be rested for at least 9 months between flocks to allow vegetation to grow back and prevent the build-up of disease in the soil. Free range farms don’t have to provide a specific number of pop holes, and their pasture need only be rested for 2 months. This can leave free range hens with restricted access to a bare, muddy, parasite-ridden pasture. As a result, free range hens spent less time outdoors.
The labels on egg boxes can be a bit confusing. Corn-fed, Omega-rich, barn-raised, farm fresh all seem to suggest wholesomeness but standards are only guaranteed when the eggs are certified by the Soil Association as organic, unless you get your eggs from a local farm and you know that the standards there are high.
Beak trimming without anaesthetics is allowed and common practice in free range flocks. This practice is not allowed by the Soil Association.
It is not always necessary, easy, or economical to buy organic produce, but for eggs I think there’s a strong case to do so. We do have the responsibility to consider where the food we eat has come from and how it impacts our health and the welfare of our planet and other creatures.