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Cage-free vs. free-range: What you should know before shopping for eggs

Egg Prices
Posted at 3:37 PM, Feb 03, 2023

Shopping for eggs can be a daunting task these days. The average cost of a dozen large Grade A chicken eggs was $4.25 in December. That's an increase of more than $2.75 a year earlier.

In addition to higher prices, consumers are facing more choices in grocery stores. Some packages say the eggs are "cage-free" and "free-range," but what does that mean?

The Food and Drug Administration requires producers to meet specific standards to carry those labels.

Cage-free eggs are "laid by hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor houses, and have access to fresh food and water." The FDA also notes that the hens must be able to exhibit natural behaviors such as building a nest. In addition, they must be able to "move in a barn in a manner that promotes bird welfare."

Producers of free-range eggs must meet all the same requirements as producers of cage-free eggs. However, they must also give the hens "continuous access to outdoors during their laying cycle." The FDA says the outdoor area can be fenced or covered with netting. These eggs are often more expensive than cage-free eggs.

Other labels may be used for marketing purposes. Farm fresh simply means that the eggs came from a farm. "Natural" should not be confused with organic. According to the Department of Agriculture, "natural" means that nothing was added to the egg. It notes that all eggs meet this criteria.

Organic eggs, however, do have to meet certain standards. They come from uncaged hens that are free to roam their houses and outdoors. In addition, they are fed a diet without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.