Thursday, February 18, 2010

Are Organic / Free-Range / Vegetarian / Antibiotic-Free Eggs Really Worth It?

A good piece from's sustainable food blog on eggs, and the relative merits of the more expensive supermarket varieties. Nothing super new here for anyone that's read Pollan, Nestle, etc, but a good reminder.  The key takeaway, here:

A Free Range label on an egg carton or chicken wrapper almost invariably means the chickens were raised in a crowded shed with limited outdoor access and almost certainly no fresh grass. It is often not terribly different from how their conventional counterparts are raised, and yet by meeting a few technical benchmarks, sellers can mark up their products to fetch the premium prices that more ethical food bring, effectively duping consumers. Don't be fooled; there is no substitute for real pasture.

Eggs are fascinating, because they are both a ubiquitous staple, an aggressively marketed "functional" food, and the object of much nutritional debate. Even in small grocery stores today we are forced to choose between conventional, organic, omega-3 fortified, and more. If you're lucky enough to have access to good, pastured eggs from a small farm, you get the best of all of these. If you're stuck buying your eggs from the store, let your conscience and your wallet be your guide.  There's no doubt that organic and free-range are at least a little bit better for the environment and for the chickens. The omega-3s are a bit trickier. While such fortified eggs are undoubtedly a great source of the nutrient,  they aren't necessarily the most cost-efficient way of getting it. If you are worried about both omega-3 fatty acids and your food budget, you may be better off developing a taste for sardines and (depending on  your risk factors for thinks like mercury) other seafood. At any event, budget-conscious shoppers would be wise to pass on omega-3 fortified milk, which charges a hefty premium for a very modest amount of the fatty acid.

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