When you go to the grocery store, there are a variety of eggs to choose from: cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, organic, Certified Humane, non-GMO, etc. What exactly do each of those labels mean?
Cage-Free: The chickens laying eggs “cage-free” are un-caged and free to walk and nest. They may not have outdoor access. This is an unregulated term, so birds may still be subject to living in densely-packed facilities. Cage-free chickens may be subject to beak-cutting and starvation-based forced molting unless certified otherwise.
Free-Range: Free-range chickens are un-caged, free to walk and nest, and have access to the outdoors. While they must have access to the outdoors, it can be a few small doors so the hens may not actually step outside. Hens may be subject to beak-cutting and starvation-based forced molting unless certified otherwise.
Pasture-Raised: The chickens are un-caged, free to walk and nest, and have access to the outdoors. Chickens with access to fields/pastures, naturally forage on bugs, worms, and other small insects. Hens may be subject to beak-cutting and starvation-based forced molting unless certified otherwise.
Certified Organic: Subject to government regulation. The chickens are un-caged, free to walk and nest, and have access to the outdoors. Certified Organic Eggs come from hens that are fed only certified organic feed, without chemicals, GMO’s etc. Check out the Organic Egg Scorecard for a rating of organic egg brands.
Certified Humane: This certification prohibits forced molting through starvation, but allows beak cutting. Free-range and pasture-raised birds must have access to outdoor areas for at least six hours each day. Free-range birds must have at least 2 square feet of outdoor space, but the space is not required to have any living vegetation. Pasture-raised birds must have at least 108 square feet of pasture, and the land must be covered mainly with living vegetation.
Vegetarian-Fed: Chickens are fed a vegetarian diet – no fish, meat, or animal byproducts. Note - Chickens are naturally omnivores, so in the wild they would want to feed on worms and other insects.