With so many different labels imprinted on egg cartons, it’s not only confusing, but also leaves consumers wondering which eggs to purchase. Certified organic, free-range or cage-free eggs are just a few of the labels that can be found on egg cartons in the dairy section of grocery stores. While an egg is no longer just an egg, navigating through each label to find the healthiest choice is a consumer’s ultimate goal.
In 2011, more than 79 billion table eggs were produced by egg farmers in the U.S., with concentration in the Midwest and additional production in Pennsylvania, California and Texas, according to the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress (CSR). The CSR report also determined that 95 percent of egg production is by conventional cage systems whose concept originated in the 1950s. In this form of production, hens are housed in wire cages, which hold up to 10 egg-laying hens and have “automated feeding, watering and egg collection systems.”
New “enriched cage systems,” developed in Europe in the 1980s, makes up the other 5 percent of production. This form of production houses hens in either “cage-free” or “free-range” systems, such as barns or warehouses, where they roam free and engage in natural behaviors, according to the CSR report.
As way to regulate egg production and guarantee the health and welfare of consumers, the FDA adopted the Egg Products Inspection Act. The adopted measure assures “that eggs and egg products distributed to them and used in products consumed by them are wholesome, otherwise not adulterated, and properly labeled and packaged.” The FDA confirms that labeling of egg cartons is neither false nor misleading as prescribed. If determined otherwise, the product can be withheld and will be conclusive through final determination by way of a hearing.