organic eggs

Organic Eggs: Worth the Cost? Yes!

A Time magazine article got it wrong when it proclaimed organic eggs are no healthier than factory-farmed eggs, and here's why.


Don't be mislead: There are good reasons to choose organic eggs.

Organic eggs are often more expensive, but are they worth the extra cost? According to a 2010 Time magazine article, no. But we beg to differ.

The controversial Time article stated that organic eggs are no healthier than factory-farmed eggs and are thus not worth the extra costs. But the article's author is missing some major benefits of organic eggs—such as the fact that they're higher in omega-3 fatty acids, free of antibiotic residues, and contain no arsenic, which is added to factory-farmed chicken-feed to prevent infections and spur growth.

The article was based on a U.S. Department of Agriculture study finding that different production methods—factory-farmed, cage-free, and free-roaming—all met the same quality standards. Yet, the author's conclusions that organic eggs are no healthier than conventional, and that the way they're raised is dangerous and not worth the added cost, run far afield of the research, misinterpreting the study's primary finding.

More advice about eggs:
How Egg Carton Claims Relate to Salmonella Risks
What's the Best Chicken for You?
5 Great-Tasting Recipes for Soufflés

Here's how Time missed the boat and gave rotten egg advice:

#1: The test used in the USDA study is a measure of egg quality, not nutrition. The study used something called the Haugh unit, a scale between 0 to 110 that basically lets producers know whether or not the egg is stale (the lower the number, the lower the quality). To measure Haugh unit, an egg is broken onto a flat surface, where the height of the yolk and thickness of the egg white are measured, says Alissa Maloberti, director of egg product marketing at the American Egg Board. Fresh eggs have taller upstanding yolks and more compact whites, while older eggs have runner yolks and thinner whites. The Time article made the assumption that Haugh unit is somehow indicative of nutritional value, when in fact, the USDA's definition of Haugh unit mentions nothing about an egg's nutritional content. "It's more of a visual test to gauge the sample quality," says Maloberti. "It has no bearing on nutritional value at all." While it is true that organic eggs and factory-farmed eggs are on par with levels of protein and other vital nutrients, studies have found that organic eggs are far higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Recent findings from Penn State University revealed that organically raised chicken eggs had three times more of these healthy fats than their confined counterparts, along with 40 percent more vitamin A and twice as much vitamin E.

#2: "Free-roaming" and "cage-free" aren't the same as "organic." The USDA study didn't specify organic as one of the production methods they studied, but the author continually refers to "organic" eggs as though the authors had. Unlike "USDA Organic," "free-range" and "cage-free" are unsubstantiated claims that aren't verified by independent third parties—any producer can slap those labels on a carton of eggs without any evidence that his or her chickens roam free or live outside cages. To find out which labels to trust, and which to ignore, read our story on how to find the healthiest eggs.

#3: Organic eggs are free of antibiotics; factory-farmed eggs are not. One reason people opt for organic eggs is that they come from chickens not doused with, or fed food laced with, unhealthy antibiotics. The author writes that "the drugs are used sparingly in the egg-laying industry," but a number of studies can show that's not the case. A 2000 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that antibiotics used in chicken feed can linger in a chicken's eggs for up to seven days. Since then, a number of chicken companies have pledged to reduce the amount of antibiotics used, but studies published as recently as 2008 and 2010 are still finding residues of antibiotics commonly used in the poultry industry.

#4: Organic eggs are also free of arsenic; factory-farmed eggs are not. The Time article makes no mention of the fact that tests from the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, a nonprofit devoted to promoting sustainable agriculture, has found traces of arsenic in chicken meat, and a recent test by the Utah Department of Health detected arsenic in eggs from chickens fed conventional feed. The heavy metal contamination comes from an arsenic-based additive called roxarsone, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), used to promote chicken growth. The Environmental Protection Agency has banned arsenic-based preservatives used on wood products, but the FDA hasn't seen any logic for banning it in food designed for human consumption. Roxarsone is, however, banned in organic poultry production—just one more reason organic eggs are worth those few extra pennies.

#5: Shell color doesn't matter. On this one point, the author is right. "Another mistake some health-conscious consumers make…is believing that the color of an egg makes a difference and that brown shells are somehow better than white ones. They're not. Color is determined entirely by the breed of chicken laying it," he writes. And that's true. But store-bought eggs generally come from one type of chicken, while organically raised eggs you might find at a farmer's market come from different heritage breeds. The nutritional content of the eggs doesn't vary based on color, but the varied colors signal a genetic diversity of heritage breeds that has an unappreciated value. "Traditional breeds have irreplaceable genes," says chicken expert and author Christine Heinrichs. "The value of rarity in living things is outweighed by the value they have as productive livestock." And their colorful eggs, which can range from blues to greens to whites to browns, certainly make for a more interesting breakfast.


Published on: July 12, 2010

More from our Authors

The 12-day power plan to flush toxins, balance hormones, and reset your body's most essential organ.

Yes, Jean Nick!

Yes to all Jean Nick wrote!

Eggs, milk, and meat are areas where the "organic" moniker hardly matters. Confinement egg laying factories where the birds only get organic grain are only a tiny bit better than ordinary confinement egg factories.

Same for dairy and meat, particularly for ruminants (beef, chevon, mutton) whose digestive systems were not intended for grain, no matter how organic that grain may be. If a ruminant is not getting the majority of its food from green plants, the meat or milk product is not healthy for you!

A better test than the Haugh test would have been the "yolk colour test." I don't have any metrics, but just by looking a a yolk, I can tell if the hen has been raised on grain or if it has been on pasture. The "yolk colour test" does not depend on a small door that chickens don't use -- the colour in the yolks comes from beta carotene found in leafy greens.

So if the yolks aren't bright orange-yellow, the hens aren't actually eating greens, even if their owner claims they are organic and have access to pasture. Pale, pastel-yellow yolks, deficient in beta-carotene and healthy fats, can come from so-called "organic" hens as well as from hens fed chemical poisons!

Not all organic eggs are more nutritious

It is true that all organic eggs are free of antibiotics and arsenic and lower in persistent pesticides, but very few organic eggs are raised on pasture -- so the studies showing that eggs raised on pasture have higher levels of omega-3s and other important vitamins and nutrients (and incidentally lower levels of cholesterol) do not apply to the majority of organic eggs on the market.

Organic certification for laying hens requires the have "access" to the outdoors, not that they actually ever go outside. The vast majority of organic laying flocks run around loose on the floor in huge warehouse sized barns: at the end of the barn there is a small door, which opens onto a small fenced yard. This qualifies in market-speak as "free range." The USDA inspector who visits our farm once a year says the grass in those access yards at the big organic places he visits is so clean and green that it is obvious that no hen has ever dared set foot outside onto it, and it kills him to have to sign off on the requirement as fulfilled (he always has a big smile on his face as he watches our girls scratching contentedly all over their pasture).

So buy organic eggs because they have no antibiotics, no arsenic, and no persistent pesticides in them -- and because growing chicken food organically is much safer for the farmers, farms, and communities that grow it -- but if you want higher nutrition you will have to ask questions and seek out really, truly free range or "raised-on-pasture" eggs at your local farm, Farmers Market, or health food store.

Start Your Wellness Journey!
Sign up for updates on Rodale Wellness and get your FREE wellness journal to help you find your path to vibrant health. Click here to start your unique journey!

Free Newsletter
Sign up for our FREE newsletters to stay up to date on all of our wellness news.

  The Daily Fix
Useful news and practical tips to help you live a healthy life on a healthier planet.

  Wellness in Action
Find your path to vibrant health, and get your free wellness journal as our thanks!

You may unsubscribe at any time.

Your Privacy Rights. About Us.