Free-Range Eggs: The Good Egg

Tests show free-range eggs are more nutritious and have half the cholesterol of supermarket eggs.

  • Free Range Eggs
    Free range eggs are the best choice when looking for organic food.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Eggs
    Supermarket Eggs (per USDA Nutrient Database)

  • Free Range Eggs
  • Eggs

We have just completed testing eggs from four flocks raised on pasture — the results revealed that compared to supermarket eggs from hens raised in cages, our free-range eggs contained only about half as much cholesterol, were up to twice as rich in vitamin E, and were two to six times richer in beta carotene (a form of vitamin A). For essential omega-3 fatty acids (vital for optimal heart and brain function), the free-range eggs averaged four times more than factory eggs.

Our results are summarized below, compared to the official factory-egg nutrient data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

We’re not the first to report data showing that raising hens in cages produces substandard eggs. In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found that eggs from pastured hens in Greece contained 13 times more omega-3s than eggs from U.S. supermarkets. In 1974, a British study found that eggs from pastured hens had 50 percent more folic acid and 70 percent more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory-farmed hens. In 1997, a study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found eggs from free-range chickens had higher levels of both omega-3s and vitamin E than those from hens maintained in cages and fed commercial diets. Most recently, in 2003, Pennsylvania State University researchers reported that birds kept on pasture produced three times more omega-3s in their eggs than birds raised in cages on a commercial diet. They also found twice as much vitamin E and 40 percent more vitamin A in the yolks of the pastured birds.

Eggs are not the only instance of declining nutrition and other problems associated with industrial food products: Vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables have been declining over the last 50 years and meat and dairy products show lower levels of nutrients in industrial production systems compared to animals raised on pasture (see On the food safety front, grain-fed beef is more likely to be contaminated with toxic E. coli bacteria than meat from pasture-raised animals.

Researching this article, we came across this statement on the Web site of the American Egg Board: “The nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations.”

Because the egg board has a $20 million annual budget and a nutrition advisory committee of seven physicians and professors, one would think we could trust what it says. But when we asked on which studies it had based this statement, the reply was: “We know of no research on nutritional content of eggs laid by hens who ate exactly the same feed in cage, floor or free-range operations. The nutritional content of eggs is affected by feed, not how birds are housed.” The board is clearly trying to deny what the research shows: Hens housed in free-range conditions are able to consume large amounts of grass, clover, weeds and insects in addition to grain. This diverse natural diet makes free-range eggs rich in nutrients, while hens confined in “cage or floor operations” produce substandard eggs.

6/13/2014 8:46:57 PM

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