DW STAFF – The National Organic
Program is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to maintain standards for
organic food production on a national scale. But what is the difference between
‘organic’ food and ‘free-range’ food, specifically eggs?
With this article, allow me to give
you a brief run through of the two certifications and give you a little insight
as to what they mean for food consumers.
According to standards set by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic chickens must be fed only feed that is
grown without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. Additionally, they cannot
be fed hormones or antibiotics at any time during their lives. They can,
however, be given vaccinations to prevent disease and must be provided
reasonable access to the outdoors, although they can be kept inside for medical
As is to be expected with food
certifications, there is quite a large marketing aspect related to the National
Organic Program, as laid out in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s
document on organic farming.
The National Organic Program
regulates marketing standards related to organic agriculture. What this means
for us consumers is that produce such as chicken cannot be labelled ‘organic’
unless it meets certain criteria. I suggest you take a look at the official
government document I’ve linked to again here related to the National Organic
For chicken to be classified as
‘free-range,’ it must have been granted access to the outdoors during the
raising process. There are no specific time or space limitations set for this,
making the term a little ambiguous.
In fact, there is quite little
regulation in general regarding free-range chicken, with many questions being
raised by credible sources regarding the practices involved.
It becomes even more ambiguous when
you factor in that free-range chicken does not have to be ‘organic.’ In other
words, growing chicken free-range does not instantly qualify their eggs to be
labelled as ‘organic.’
So which should I buy?
It’s a bit hard to tell at this
moment, isn’t it? Both sides seem to have their perks and drawbacks, with each
classification being a bit ambiguous and not exactly helpful to the end
And such is the case when buying many
types of mass produced food of either classification, as mentioned in this
article from WebMD.
But there actually is a third option
that’s worth looking into, and that is that of free-range organic chicken,
typically grown by private, local farmers.
On the left is the yolk of an egg
produced by a free-range organic chicken, on the right is just the opposite – a
store-bought, mass produced egg.
Notice the difference in color. This
is a common difference that will instantly give away ‘store bought’ eggs in the
presence of natural, free-range organic eggs.
The egg yolk’s color has implications
regarding the nutrition and health of the chicken that produced it. A darker
yolk is an indication of a nutritious and balanced diet rich in xanthophyll,
omega-3 fatty acids and meats.
Simply put, it takes quite a bit of
time and energy to feed free-range chickens that produce eggs with a darker
yolk. While the above hyperlinked article goes into a bit more detail regarding
the commercial chicken feeding process, the gist of it is that egg factories
feed their chickens lots and lots of corn, which gives their yolk a golden
On the other hand, free-range organic
chicken farmers must feed their chickens lots of fresh greens, including kale,
collard and broccoli to produce the dark orange yolk that has been proven to
not only taste richer but also be more rich in nutrients and vitamins.
I hope that, after reading this
article, you will choose to buy free-range organic chicken eggs from your local
farmer. Most should not have a problem allowing you to ask questions regarding
the raising of their chickens – maybe some might even allow you to walk through
their property yourself.
But if that option does not work for
you, please do consider regular store bought ‘organic’ or ‘free range’ eggs.
Supporting those types of eggs is far more ethical than to support the means by
which eggs are conventionally grown.