Q: What is the nutritional difference between the eggs I can get at a grocery store and eggs my hens lay at home?
A: Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get such good eggs in the grocery store? Until things change, though, most people really can’t.
Studies show that eggs laid by hens raised on pasture--in other words, hens who have access to a yard or run where they can forage--have less fat and cholesterol, and more healthy vitamin A, vitamin E, beta carotene and omega-3s. A follow-up study confirms the findings, and shows additionally that pastured hens also lay eggs with increased vitamin D--three to six times more! By contrast, eggs you get in the grocery store are typically laid by hens that are caged in an area so small they can’t stand up or stretch their wings. The cages are stacked many high, and they certainly have no access to pasture. Parts of their upper beak have invariably been seared off in order to keep them from hurting one another when packed into those stressful, overcrowded conditions.
Even commercially produced eggs labelled “organic” or "free range" have been laid by hens who have never seen a blade of grass, the sun or the sky, and who have had their beaks seared off. “Free range,” in factory farm terms, has become one of those phrases that more or less means the opposite of what it says. It simply means the hens are crowded together on a factory floor, rather than in cages. There is no requirement that the hens have access to pasture. “organic” simply refers to the food the hens are fed, not to their living conditions (read more about this on our blog). But by calling them “free range,” “cage free,” or “organic” eggs, factory farms hope they can fool you into picturing something like this:
The above photo shows the conditions of backyard hens, not factory farm victims. If you really want to see factory farm conditions--and if have a strong stomach--you can Google Image Search photos of actual factory farm hens. This is not recommended if you want to sleep at night.
That said, if you are lucky enough that your grocery store carries egg labelled as “pasture-raised,” that IS different. Pasture raised hens lay eggs that eggs should average the same nutritional benefits you would see from your pet backyard hens raised on pasture. Not sure about your grocery store’s eggs? If they’re organic, you can check the Organic Egg Scorecard to see how they fare.