Cage free, free roaming, free range, farm fresh, organic—these are all things you will find on an egg carton in your grocery store’s egg case. However many times you’ve stopped and stared at the variety in front of you, understanding the differences can be incredibly confusing. While the majority of Americans support humanely raised animals and products, they are still often misled by labeling and are not fully in the know of what they’re consuming.

What’s the difference?

When a carton label states the egg is organic, it typically indicates that these hens receive organic feed grown without genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides.

Although we all conjure up images of the hens living more naturally, outside and roaming in fields, Organic doesn’t necessarily mean the best welfare for the hen. Very often, these hens live inside—unless the pack specifically states that they are from free-range hens for example.

Cage-free

More than 170 million Americans don’t really know what the term ‘cage free’ means and many confuse this with free-range. While cage-free hens are essentially raised without cages, these hens are confined inside, in a barn their entire lives with thousands of other hens, with no access to roam freely outside and in the fresh air. Again, free roaming is most often a term that would mean the hens spend their lives inside, roaming within confinement of a barn.

"When you’re looking for a true free-range egg brand, do your research; look into companies that give their hens a true free-range lifestyle."

However, free-range eggs can be the most confusing for consumers, as not all free-range eggs are the same. While free-range hens have access to the outdoors, very often, these hens are limited to just two square feet of outdoor space per hen. The American Humane Association’s standard for free range, however, is much higher than the average free range, at 21.8 square feet per hen of outdoor access during the daytime and access to sheltered areas at night, which is what most consumers would expect for a hen that is categorized as free range.

When you’re looking for a true free-range egg brand, do your research; look into companies that give their hens a true free-range lifestyle. 

Lack of labeling

If you come across a carton of eggs that doesn’t specify a type, the egg likely came from a caged hen, as 88 percent of eggs sold in the US are caged eggs. These hens are raised and permanently kept in cages often as small as a single sheet of letter paper. Even if the carton says Farm Fresh, the hens are probably kept in cages despite brand imagery.

When you’re perusing the refrigerated egg case looking for the perfect dozen, keep in mind the eggssentials before choosing your egg brand. Behind every egg is a hen. Wouldn’t it be nice to consume an egg that was humanely raised?