Saturday, May 13, 2017

What do all those egg labels mean?

I'm suspicious about food labels. And these Costco eggs sure seem to carry a lot of claims. Consumer Reports offers a site call Greener Choices/labels which tries to provide some idea which are meaningful.

Let's start with the bold text claim "Organic", reinforced by the round green and white USDA Organic seal. Greener Choices is currently a little dubious about this one, as applied to meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods.

The standards are meaningful for promoting sustainable agricultural practices and eliminating toxic synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and other synthetic inputs. ... [But] Inconsistencies in the organic standards and oversight include:
- outdoor access for organic chickens
- the allowance of antibiotic use in organic chicken hatcheries,
- the use of certain unapproved synthetic nutrients in organic processed foods, including infant formula, and
- the continued approval of non-organic ingredients that raise human health concerns, such as carrageenan.

If you are a purist, (I'm not) you wouldn't put much stock in this one.

"Pasture raised" turns out to be even more dubious.

A “pasture raised” claim suggests that the animals were raised on or with access to a pasture. However, government agencies that oversee food labeling do not have a common standard for a “pasture raised” claim and do not require third-party verification or on-farm inspection.

Oops. Not much to go on here.

"No hormones or antibiotics" doesn't live up to its promise either.

Choosing animal products from animals raised without antibiotics is an important step consumers can take to help address the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. ... [But] For dairy product and egg labels, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), label approval is not required. The FDA has no regulatory definition for “raised without antibiotics” labels.

The small circular label in the upper right corner next to USDA/Organic turns out to receive strong approval.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed label is highly meaningful and verified. It means that the animals used to produce meat and dairy were raised on certified organic farms ... Animals have to be managed in accordance to the USDA organic standards, which means the animals cannot be treated with antibiotics or artificial hormones to promote growth. Organic standards also prohibit the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides on pasture and crops. Genetically engineered crops, such as genetically engineered alfalfa (hay), are also prohibited.

This certification doesn't seem to say anything about the living conditions of laying hens.

Nor, according to Greener Choices, does the round yellow, blue, and red circular label in the far upper right from "American Humane Certified" mean much.

The American Humane Certified label is somewhat meaningful and verified. While the American Humane Association says its standards aim to ensure the humane treatment and improve the welfare of farm animals, the requirements fall short in meeting consumer expectations for a “humane” label in many ways. Most Americans think that a “humane” label should mean that the animals had adequate living space (86%), went outdoors (78%) and were raised without cages (66%).

The American Humane Certified standards do not always assure consumers that these basic requirements were met. For example, minimum space requirements are sometimes greater than the industry norm, but do not always allow for freedom of movement. Animals such as chickens, pigs and turkeys can be continually confined indoors .... The indoor space requirements for laying hens vary depending on the type of housing that is used, and the American Humane Certified standards require slightly more space than the industry norm (which is roughly 9 inches by 7.5 inches in a cage). The minimum space requirement for a hen in an enriched colony house is at least 10 inches by 11.6 inches. ...

I'm glad I'm not a chicken.

Interestingly, these particular Costco eggs get high marks from "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" which itself is a label Greener Choices considers "meaningful and verified."

Obviously, the people selling us eggs think we care about this stuff. But it looks as if even somewhat conscientious farmers and vendors have a long way to go to be marketing to us products which accord with what we expect from their claims. On the other hand, pretty good food is abundant and often quite cheap. I'm glad I have it.

2 comments:

Rain Trueax said...

Eggs are my favorite food and I love those from free-ranging chickens-- BUT we buy the big packs of eggs from Costco and never read the label. They are my guilty pleasure. I have raised chickens but right now that requires something I am not willing to do-- be there all the time, have a pen safe from all predators, and stew the hens that are no longer laying. I'd buy them from someone local but never consistently find a source. Knowing how chickens live in the egg factories, I feel mad at myself for contributing to that-- but can't or won't give up my addiction to eggs.

Sandra de Helen said...

I buy my eggs from Trader Joe's and get the ones that promise the chickens are free range. It's important to me that the chickens are not kept in cages all the time, or only allowed out into the barn. In Portland, I had a source for eggs from a farm where they had only sixty laying hens. But here I don't have that luxury, so I have to trust Trader Joe's.

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