With so many labels, it can be hard to know eggs-actly what you’re buying!

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It’s still the “Incredible, Edible Egg.”

But since the catchy jingle was introduced in 1977 by the American Egg Board, grocery store shelves have expanded to include cartons and cartons of eggs with different labels such as “organic,” “cage-free,” “hormone-free” and “natural.” 

What do these labels mean, and how do you know which ones to buy?

“The main take-home point is that an egg is an egg—the majority of labeling claims are marketing tactics by companies trying to get more market share,” explained Tony Banks, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation commodity marketing specialist. “Eggs have the same nutritional value, are all antibiotic-free and all chickens are raised humanely, regardless of label claims. The consumer has a choice between a myriad of eggs and labeling claims.”

ABCs of egg carton labeling

The Egg Nutrition Center employs health and nutrition experts to provide balanced, accurate information on the complex issues surrounding eggs, nutrition and health. The center shares the following points about egg carton labels: 

• Antibiotic-free: All eggs produced in the United States are antibiotic-free, even if it’s not specified on the carton. If a hen has an illness and is treated with antibiotics, all of her eggs must be diverted from human consumption, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

• Cage-free/free-roaming eggs: These eggs are laid by hens that may roam in a building, room or open area, usually in a barn or poultry house. Cage-free systems vary and include barn-raised and free-range hens, both of which have shelter that helps protect against predators.

• Gluten-free: All eggs are naturally gluten-free.

• Hormones: The egg industry does not use hormones in production of shell eggs. A “no hormone” statement may appear on a label for shell eggs, but the FDA requires that it be accompanied by a qualifying statement that “hormones are not used in the production of shell eggs” to prevent misleading consumers that some eggs have added hormones.

• Natural: The U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies all shell eggs as natural.

 Organic eggs: These are eggs that are laid by cage-free, free-roaming hens that are raised on certified organic feed and have access to the outdoors.

• Pasteurized eggs: These eggs have been heated to temperatures just below the coagulation point to destroy pathogens. 

For more information about eggs, visit the American Egg Board’s site at aeb.org or the Egg Nutrition Center’s website at eggnutritioncenter.org.

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