• 'Natural living' is a marketing term which doesn’t provide any guarantee of the way the hens are housed. (Getty Images)
A no-nonsense guide to what the labels on your egg carton actually tell you.
By
Melanie McGrice

15 Oct 2018 - 5:01 PM  UPDATED 15 Oct 2018 - 4:58 PM

Eggs are a rich source of nutrition, and an excellent source of protein, vitamin D, omega 3 and choline, with the average Aussie eating around 210 eggs per year.

But with many different types of eggs, it can be confusing to know which ones to choose. To help you make a more educated choice, we’re going to crack the code of egg labelling!

How hens are raised and what this means for your eggs

Australians care about how hens are treated, and chicken farming and subsequent labelling is regulated by government legislation to ensure the welfare of the birds and eliminate false or misleading claims.

Free-range

Free-range hens can roam and forage for food from the land for no less than six hours during the daytime and weather permitting.

Free range means there must be less than 10,000 hens per hectare of land. There must also be shelter from the weather and predators. Free-range eggs are generally more expensive than barn- or cage-laid eggs because of extra expenses required during production, primarily for more land and farm labour.  

Barn laid

Barn hens are not caged, but they are confined to a ventilated barn with perches and nesting spaces. Some may argue that keeping them indoors is unnatural or unkind, but others say this eliminates the risk of attacks by predators and transfer of disease. The barns are designed so they can be easily cleaned and they are inspected daily.

Farmers distribute water and feed equally, ensuring adequate nutrition.

Caged

Caged hens are raised in a shed and restricted to cages. Although some believe this subjects the hens to lower quality living conditions, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) ensures they are raised humanely.

The cages must be designed to minimise injury, a feed and water trough must be provided, and cages must be a minimum of 40 cm high and no less than 35 cm wide.

Organic

Organically fed hens are classified as ‘free range’ and are also fed only organic feed that is guaranteed to be free of chemicals, antibiotics, growth-promoting substances or synthetics. These hens are also free from genetic modification.

Australian standards require organic egg producers to have a current AQIS certificate to ensure organic practices are being maintained.

While all eggs are a source of omega-3, some eggs have more because the hens that lay them are fed a diet rich in the fatty acid such as linseeds.

Biodynamic

The concept of biodynamic foods arose in the 1920s by philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamic foods are defined as those that considers the ‘spirit’ of the food. Biodynamic is an unregulated term; however there are associations that producers of biodynamic foods can belong to. 

Pastured

Pastured eggs come from chooks that spend their days roaming pasture, as opposed to free-range eggs, which are grown from hens which have access to the outdoors, but still spend much of their day indoors. Research suggests that pastured eggs may provide more omega 3 fats, vitamin E and vitamin A than caged eggs as hen’s get the opportunity to forage on insects, worms and grass.

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RSPCA approved

The RSPCA has worked hard to improve the standard of hen treatment in Australia, although it’s important to note that eggs with the RSPCA logo voluntarily apply and pay to have their company assessed.  RSPCA hens may be have more room and better lighting, but they also allow caged hens.

Some of the most common egg carton labels

Eggs can be labelled according to their size, from small to jumbo. In Australia, there are no regulations on egg sizes, so companies tend to grade their own eggs. Most recipes when they refer to an egg is 50-60 g. All eggs in SBS Food recipes are 55-60 g, unless otherwise specified.

You may also see the term ‘natural living’ on your egg carton. This is marketing speak, which doesn’t provide any guarantee about the way hens are raised.

Although you may see the ‘Australian Grown’ symbol on your carton, all eggs sold in Australia are produced in Australia.

You may also see the term ‘natural living’ on your egg carton. This is marketing speak, which doesn’t provide any guarantee about the way hens are raised.

Eggs are high in cholesterol but eating eggs has negligible effect on our blood cholesterol levels. The Heart Foundation recommends eating up to seven eggs each week. While only some producers choose to pay for the Heart Foundation Tick, all eggs are a good choice for heart health.

Some cartons are labelled as brown eggs but contrary to many other foods the colour of an egg has no impact upon its nutritional profile. The colour of the egg shell  usually reflects the feathers of the hen laying the egg, with white-feathered hens laying white eggs and brown-feathered hens laying brown eggs. 

You might come across a carton label that says ‘Omega-3 eggs’. While all eggs are a source of omega-3, contributing around 180 milligram per serve, some eggs have more because the hens that lay them are fed a diet rich in the fatty acid such as linseeds. 

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you choose free range-, brown- or jumbo-labelled eggs, because all eggs are good for you

 

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