Are free range, pastured eggs higher in certain Vitamins and Omega 3 Fatty Acids? Welllllll, before I answer that question, clarification of terms is required.
The general public is actively being mis-led by the terminology used by the egg industry. Let me break it down for you.
1. Organic: natural feed with no hormones, antibiotics, or synthetic particals such as preservatives.
2. Antibiotic free: Could be anything without antibiotics. Does not stipulate organic status. Be very careful here, as almost all "chick" feed contains some type of antibiotics. It is the industry standard.
3. Hormone free: see number 2, but substitute "hormone" for "antibiotics". All commecial meat bird/butcher bird feed will contain growth hormones, as will game bird food.
4. Cage free: Bird is not confined to a cage, but is most likely on a brooder house floor, with several thousand other birds. Very unhealthy, and VERY misleading. A breeding ground for diseases.
5. Free Range: The worst term. Means NOTHING. If the bird has access to a run, outside, for at least a half hour a week, the flock owner can claim "free range". The rest of the time, they're in a brooder house, or factory in cages.
6. Pasture Raised: This term means EVERYTHING to me. At least the bird is allowed access to nature, at some time or another. But, know your farmer. Ask for proof and an explanation of what this means to them. Pasture raising birds is very costly. Loss to predators and poachers can be staggering.
After my last blog, a reader (Gary_twist@hotmail.com) requested that I prove or disprove claims that farm fresh eggs were higher in vitamins and Omega 3 fatty acids. Well, here is my response:
Maybe. It depends on how the flock is managed.
Pasture Raised, yes. On pasture, they are foraging for natural foods. Deriving consideral proteins from grubs and insects, vitamins and minerals occuring naturally in the soil and foliage. What a bird eats, directly determines the quality of it's eggs. Birds raised on pasture, suplimented with feeds high in polyunsaturated fats and kelp meal, will produce eggs with yolks measurably higher in vitamin A, E, D, Beta caretin (sp), and Omega 3 fatty acids. The are also lower in cholesterol and fats.
This I will attest to....but nothing else. Please be aware that a study in 2010 by the FDA/USDA determined that there was NO distinguishable difference in protein and crude fat levels in pasture raised vs commercial egg production.
So, the studies and debates continue. Would I buy pastured eggs before commercial eggs, certainly. I like to hedge my bets. Even if the benefits are over-stated somewhat, what do you have to lose?
Hope this has been helpful.