Know Your Egg Shed, Part III: Egg Miles

egg miles chartThe term, egg miles, is simply how far an egg has to travel from a laying hen to your table. Another way of expressing egg miles is from “point of lay” to “point of consumption”.

Knowing how far your eggs travel is a useful and environmentally meaningful indicator. You could think of this distance as indicitative of an egg’s carbon footprint. Egg miles help you estimate the associated energy requirements needed for production, packaging, refrigeration and transport of the eggs you eat. The attached diagram helps visualize egg miles in various egg sheds systems.

Egg miles are easy to calculate.

• Family flocks are the easiest egg miles to calculate. Just measure the distance from your coop —to your kitchen — usually in yards (excuse the pun).

• Local producers put their address, and phone number, are on a label attached to an egg carton (often recycled). Use your GPS or Google maps to estimate the distance from the producer’s address to your point of purchase, and then add on the distance from your purchase site to your home.

Click here to see an enlarged version of this chart.

• Commercial egg producers rarely print an address or phone number on their egg cartons. Commercial egg cartons usually have: ”Produced and distributed by XYZ Egg Farm(s)” with the city and state listed. Go on the Internet to find their street address. Calculate the distance from the egg farm to your point of purchase, and then to your home. This will give you a semi-accurate egg miles estimate.

• Factory egg farms are more challenging to estimate the egg miles. Their (always new) egg cartons list the location of the distribution/packing facility, not necessarily the producer. What will be listed are one, or more, packing license numbers, often for multiple states. For example, Simple Truth™ eggs are distributed by a major grocery chain and lists packers/distributors from Texas and Indiana.

To estimate the egg miles for factory farm eggs, get the packer/distributor’s phone number by contacting the state licensing board. Once you have this number, call the packer/distributor and give them the code printed on the carton end (usually aligned with the “best used by” date). The packer/distributor might tell you the location of where the hens laid the eggs. But chances are high they will tell you this is proprietary information — so the closest address you end up with is the packer/distributor, and not the point of lay.

Now do the math. Starting at the laying hen location, go to Google Maps, or your GPS and plug in the addresses and get the mileages from and to:

• The producers (point of lay) to the packers (point of carton),

• The packers to the distributors (point of filling cartons)

• The distributors to your grocery (point of purchase), and

• Your grocery (point of purchase) to your home (point of consumption).

That total mileage will give you the factory farm egg shed miles to your table.

Knowing the egg miles, and the source of the eggs you consume, gives you (and us as a culture) insights about the sources, distances, production models and energy requirements in bringing eggs to your table.

It’s possible to do a similar exercise for other food sheds, for example a pork shed or tomato shed. All food has carbon footprints. An Egg’s carbon footprint is especially useful to know because it contains some of the most highly nutritious, easily digestible forms of protein in the world. The less distance eggs travel in your egg shed, the lower is both your — and the egg’s — carbon footprint.  Eggs, especially local ones, can be environmentally friendly protein.

Eggs and hope spring eternal!

May the flock be with you!

Pat Foreman