1. Headline
  1. Headline
By
updated 8/24/2010 2:55:43 PM ET 2010-08-24T18:55:43

In the wake of the nationwide recall of eggs for contamination with salmonella, many consumers may be wondering what types of eggs are healthiest and safest to buy?

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. ‘Closer than 3 brothers:’ 2 Marysvile victims were cousins of gunman

      Two of the four teens injured during Friday's school shooting in Marysville, Washington, were cousins of the attacker Jayl...

    2. 5 reasons you smell bad (and fast fixes that can help)
    3. Katy Perry turns 30! 13 times we celebrated singer's colorful style
    4. What you need to do to get your garden ready for winter
    5. 9-year-old girl writes the tooth fairy an adorably honest letter

More than 90 percent of U.S. eggs come from caged hens. These birds have a space smaller than the size of a sheet of paper to move around, and live in filthy conditions. Aside from animal welfare concerns, that's bad for our health, too, Pennsylvania State University shows, because researchers recently found eggs raised on pasture are much more nutritious than eggs from their caged counterparts.

6 things food industry execs aren't telling you

Penn State's study, published recently in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems found that pastured hens—ones kept outside on different pastures where they can exhibit natural behavior and forage for bugs and grasses—boasted higher vitamin and omega-3 fatty acid levels when compared to their commercially fed, battery-cage-kept counterparts. Eggs from pastured hens contained twice as much vitamin E and 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acids as the eggs from caged birds contained.

12 reasons to buy only organic

What it means
There are dozens of claims that manufacturers can make on egg cartons. Some of them are meaningful, but others are just ways to trick consumers into thinking they're buying eggs from happy chickens. (Remember, 90 percent of chicken eggs produced in this country come from the worst type of production system—battery cages.)

  1. Prevention
    1. 20 Celebrity Icons of Breast Cancer
    2. Hide Dark Circles Around Your Eyes
    3. 6 Surprising Moves for a Flatter Belly
    4. Best Natural–Looking Makeup
    5. Breast Cancer Beauty Buys Under $25

In an ideal situation, you would purchase your eggs from a local farmer in your area who raises chickens on pasture with plenty of space per bird, and uses moveable, open-air chicken houses, sometimes called chicken tractors, to protect the birds from predators. (You can look for this type of farmer on LocalHarvest.org.) Of course, you could also raise backyard chickens, if you have what it takes.

Eliminating cruel chicken cages is a matter of human health as well as animal welfare. The farther you take chickens away from their natural behaviors, the worse the quality of their eggs or meat.

"When you put four or five chickens in tiny cages, they can't engage in normal chicken behavior—pecking in the dirt, dusting. If they're in a cage, they can't do any of these things," explains chicken expert Gail Damerow, author of the classic Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens (Storey, 2010). (She hasn't purchased a store-bought egg since 1982.) "The pressure of the wire cages against their feet causes infections, their feathers rub off on the side of the cages. Basically, they're just totally frustrated. They've got nothing to do. They can't run around and eat flies and take dust baths. They just sit and lay eggs—what kind of life is that?" One result of all that stress and cruelty is that confined birds' eggs contain less nutrition than eggs from hens with room to roam.

Why organic eggs are worth the cost

What the labels on the egg carton really mean:

"Cage-Free" "Cage-free is certainly not like Old McDonald's farm," explains Paul Shapiro, spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States. But it's a lot better than battery cages, where most eggs are produced. "Cage-free" means that animals are not kept in cages, but generally they are kept inside in an enclosed building. While this is less than ideal, at least this setup gives animals a chance to spread their wings and lay eggs in nest boxes, which is closer to their natural behavior. Cage-free does not imply antibiotics were not used on hens.

"Free-Range" or "Free-Roaming" Usually these types of operations allow chickens outside of cages in barns or warehouses, but they aren't required to provide the animals any specific amount of time outside—or even exposure to sunlight indoors. There's no third-party inspection required for free-range claims, and the chickens can be debeaked or forced into molting through starvation, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

  1. More on the egg recall
    1. Recalls change how we eat — briefly
      AP file

      Some consider becoming vegans, others give up store eggs, but will it last?

    2. Lawsuit seeks class-action in egg recall case
    3. Salmonella victim still can't stand the sight of eggs
    4. Recalled eggs will be processed, sold
    5. How you can buy the healthiest eggs

"Organic" A USDA-certified organic label means the eggs came from hens that were not enclosed in battery cages, and that must be offered access to the outdoors. However, this doesn't guarantee that the animals ever go outside. Organic eggs come from hens that were fed certified-organic feed, free of antibiotics, pesticides, and other animal products. Forced molting and debeaking are permitted in certified-organic production. Annual inspections are required.

"Natural" This means that the finished product hasn't undergone certain unnatural processes; in this case, that product is the egg. However, just because eggs are labeled natural doesn't mean a hen wasn't pumped up with antibiotics or other unnatural substances. And it certainly doesn't mean the chickens were raised in clean, humane conditions. For all intents and purposes, natural means nothing.

"Pastured" Pastured chickens should be housed on grassland in portable shelters that are periodically moved to give the chickens fresh pasture, but there's no third-party inspection required to ensure that's what's really happening. Your best bet is to buy eggs from pastured hens at a local farm that raises the hens organically, ensuring they're not exposed to pesticides, animal by-products, or antibiotics.

"Omega-3-Enriched" This means hens were fed feed with an increased amount of omega-3-rich flaxseeds. However, pasture-raised hens are already higher in beneficial omega-3s, and they get to be outside. Technically, caged hens could also be fed flax feed, so don't equate this label with better living standards.

"Certified Humane" This means birds are not kept in cages, but they can be kept indoors. They at least have the space to perform natural behaviors. The program of Human Farm Animal Care sets limits on the number of birds that can be contained in the same area, and outside inspectors perform audits. The program does not, however, require that the animals eat organic feed.

"United Egg Producers Certified" Shapiro says this, along with "natural," is one of the most misleading claims made on an egg carton. While forced molting is prohibited under this certification, debeaking is allowed, along with other cruel and inhumane practices, such as the use of battery cages.

How to eat like, and live as long as, a Mediterranean

Copyright© 2013 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

Video: Salmonella source still unknown in egg scare

  1. Closed captioning of: Salmonella source still unknown in egg scare

    >>> but let us begin with the latest on that big recall of a half a billion eggs linked to a salmonella outbreak and the congressional investigation that's now under way. nbc's tom costello is following all of this. tom, good morning to you.

    >> reporter: hi, matt. good morning. the centers for disease control says it hasn't seen any big increase in numbers of people who have become ill with salmonella . that may be due to a lag in reporting or it could mean the worst is over. investigators still have more questions than answers. fda investigators at those two farms in iowa say they still haven't found the source of salmonella that has forced the recall of more than half a billion eggs. but the top poultry veterinary says the prime suspects have to be mice. if they infest a hen house , their droppings can quickly infect the chicken feed.

    >> if a chicken consumes the feed with the mouse fecal pellets, the chicken becomes infected and subsequently the chicken will transmit this bacteria in its own droppings to other birds.

    >> reporter: from there, the infected help can transmit salmonella directly to her eggs and from the hen house the eggs go to grocery stores and restaurants like the baker street restaurant in wisconsin where nearly two dozen were sickened with salmonella . an attorney representing one of the victims suing the farm.

    >> just the scope of the outbreak, the scope of the illness that has gone over three months, really shows that they weren't doing the minimum things that, in my view, you need to do to prevent salmonella from entering the egg supply.

    >> reporter: now the fda says investigators are still tracing bad eggs back to the farm through a confusing web of suppliers and distributors in 22 states if not more.

    >> i think it's possible the recall may grow because the network for distribution of eggs in this country is pretty complicated.

    >> reporter: one sure way to eliminate salmonella is through pasturization, an hour-long bath in which eggs are heated but not cooked.

    >> we're able to pass enough heat through the shell of the egg to kill any bacteria or viruses inside and yet not change the flavor and perfect performance characteristics of the egg.

    >> reporter: while some customers insist pasturization does affect the taste of an egg, they say business has taken off. back to the two farms involved in the investigation. the fda says there's evidence they were not following proper egg safety procedures before the salmonella outbreak. any concerns raised verbally during the fda 's on-farm visit were immediately addressed or are in the process of being addressed. matt, back to you.

    >> tom costello, thank you very

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. ‘Closer than 3 brothers:’ 2 Marysville victims were cousins of gunman

    Two of the four teens injured during Friday’s school shooting in Marysville, Washington, were cousins of the attacker Jaylen Ray Fryberg, according to family members. “They’re just three complete buddies and they couldn’t be closer than three brothers," said Don Hatch, grandfather of one of the victims. “Only God knows why it happened.“

    10/25/2014 1:18:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-25T13:18:19
  1. Wagstaff, Keith (206422924)

    Uber for kids: Shuddle wants to shuttle your children

    10/24/2014 11:20:02 PM +00:00 2014-10-24T23:20:02
  1. Elaine Thompson / AP file

    Is cash, credit or debit safer against holiday hacks?

    10/25/2014 10:04:04 AM +00:00 2014-10-25T10:04:04