For the last 22 years, I’ve been purchasing the same brand of organic eggs from the supermarket chain, Trader Joe’s. Everytime I placed the carton in my shopping cart, I thought I was making an informed, conscientious choice. I thought the extra buck or two it costs to buy organic eggs was better for the welfare of the planet, not to mention the well-being of the egg-producing hens.
And every time I cracked a few eggs to make an omelette, I thought the eggs were contributing to my health. Unlike industrial, mass-produced, caged (read: imprisoned) eggs, I was supplying my body with protein that came from happy chickens, free to roam about the pasture.
But as I recently learned, what I was engaged in was an act of gallus gallus virtue signaling. With every purchase of Trader Joe’s organic eggs, I felt morally superior for spending the extra money; Big Agriculture be damned!
Like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, I, despite being a seasoned natural health writer, was blissfully ignorant of the fact that not all organic eggs are created equal.
It wasn’t so much that I was unaware of the fact that food conglomerates have taken over organic food companies, and through lobbying and corporate influence have weakened organic standards. Rather, there are so many other things to worry about from a health standpoint; we have to pick and choose our battles.
My food choices were predicated on minimizing my exposure to glyphosate and other common chemicals and food constituents that promote inflammation in my body.
Whether or not the chickens were massaged and read poetry on the farm were of no concern to me.
But as I was reading about what I hope will become the wave of the food-producing future, regenerative farming, which is essentially going back to farming methods before factory-farming techniques became the norm, the information on my laptop was staring back at me, oozing with egg on my face.
Organic Egg Scorecard
I came across an article on Cornucopia.org. Cornucopia is a consumer education non-profit. But more than educating consumers about the inequities of organic egg production, among other topics, the organization is also a pit-bull of a Big Agriculture watchdog. Cornucopia heavily scrutinizes the US Department of Agriculture’s enforcement and application of organic labeling laws, according to the non-profit’s website.
On the Cornucopia website, you can take a virtual, fly-over tour of supposed organic farms that are, in essence, factory farms. These industrial-scaled farms contain up to 10,000 confined cows, which supply “organic” milk to big chain stores like Walmart.
I doubt I’ll ever give up pizza, but I almost 100% avoid cheese elsewhere, as I find it bloating and congesting, even if it’s organic cheese. So while I never was duped by organic dairy products, for the last two decade, I was lulled by a false sense of security by the organic labelling on eggs.
But thanks to Cornucopia’s Organic Egg Scoreboard, I learned that I was going to have to spend way more on eggs if I really wanted to eat them from hens raised in the best conditions.
One Egg Rating
Trader Joe’s ranks one egg out of five eggs. A one egg rating means that the chickens were raised in an industrial setting. The hens have no meaningful access to the outdoors. The paltry poultry outdoor access consists of a barely-accessible covered concrete porch. The chickens are actually discouraged from accessing this porch because the opening to it is prohibitively small.
According to Cornucopia, none of the producers listed in this category, which includes Wegman’s, Sprout’s, 365 (Whole Foods/Amazon), Harris Teeter (Kroger), Kirkland (Costco) and Horizon Organic, were willing to participate in Cornucopia’s research, which doesn’t bode well for organic transparency.
Only two brands were rated by Cornucopia as a two-egg rating, both of which are Wisconsin-based. The thing that distinguishes the one-egg and two-egg rating is that the latter is transparent about how its eggs are produced with its customers and researchers from Cornucopia. But the chickens are still raised in conditions that are characteristic of industrial farms.
Organic Valley and Happy Egg Company are perhaps the two most-recognized brands in this category. On these farms that produce three-egg-rated products, the operations resemble a small, family-run farm. There is meaningful and easy outdoor access for the chickens. The minimum outdoor space as defined by true, organic standards are met.
Like a mother extolling her sedentary, video-game playing kids to go outside, on these farms, the chickens are actually encouraged to forage for grubs and worms in the great outdoors. Pasture that the chickens roam around in is rotated and/or there are several chicken runs for them to fly the coop.
Just as regenerative farms are considered beyond sustainable, these exceptional, truly eggsellent farms go beyond organic. Here, these family-run farms are well-managed, rotated pastures. The brand name of the eggs reflects the family farm name even if it’s sold at a big supermarket. The housing for the hens is like a 5-star hotel.
I won’t stop shopping at Trader Joe’s. My gosh do I love the cauliflower crust pizza! But I will try my best to fork over 4 or 5 extra bucks each week when I go to my local farmer’s market for eggs. Hopefully, Trader Joe’s will contract with at least a 3-egg-rated vendor. From now on, when I buy eggs, I won’t settle for anything less than a 3, just like the number of eggs in my omelette.