Grocery eggs: Buzz Word or Better?

To share or not to share...that was the question.

Posted on May 03, 2021 by Jack McCann
Tags: BuzzWords newsletter

To Share Or Not To Share?

Over the weekend while enjoying the summer weather with some friends (and fellow members), I asked for advice about an internal struggle I have:

Should I share what I’ve learned about the food industry? If so, how much? How can my position as a local food organizer be most useful and educational?

Over the last two years I have had conversations with major players in the food industry. Almost universally, everyone is accessible and generous with their time, collaboration and advice.

I’ve met a lot of great people doing great work and I regularly share about other farms who are also making a difference.

But I’ve also learned about a lot of tricks and to be honest, outright deception or even consumer fraud, the likes of which I had no idea existed.

I find myself conflicted. On one hand I feel compelled to bring some transparency to the industry and find a way to share exactly what is really happening. On the other hand, I recognize that, regardless of my intentions, any concerns I share could be viewed in the lens of TC Farm taking a negative position about a ‘competitor’.

I felt stuck and shared this with our friends. We all know most of us are going to buy food in the grocery, but how can I realistically help with that? Our friends suggested that I focus on sharing insight on how to tell which grocery items are actually worth the extra investment, and when to skip the upgrade.

That question is hard to navigate. To be honest, it is difficult for me to answer now that I’ve see more about how the industry actually works and what is happening behind the marketing claims.

Still, I think it is a good suggestion, so let’s talk a bit about eggs.

Please continue to share your comments and ideas with us via email, on social media and on our blog!

Buzz Word or Better?

The question our friends suggested I answer was:

Are the $6-8 grocery “pasture raised” eggs worth it? Or is a shopper better off purchasing less expensive eggs and use the extra to upgrade organic produce or another item instead?

I don’t think $7 grocery eggs are worth much more than the $4 - $5 factory organic ones.

Here is why:

  • Factory barns – those ‘pasture-raised’ birds live in crowded barns just like the regular grocery organic hens. 20,000 birds per flock is too many.
  • Fake pasture – Both have access to the outside, but rarely use it (except for marketing photos).
  • Artificial colorants – Most (if not all) of the grocery eggs which market themselves as pasture raised use additives in the feed to make the yolks darker color as part of their marketing.
  • ‘Non-GM’ but otherwise conventional feed has more pesticides: Get organic eggs instead.

Use that extra money to upgrade to organic bread or flour: conventional wheat is sprayed with pesticides after it is harvested.

Want more details? Read below and watch the video below of the presentation I made to the City of Lakes Rotary.

This is pasture

This is also pasture 

(At least according to the USDA and egg labels rules)

Have a hard time believing that egg yolks are colored?

First, I want to be super clear:

I don't think there is any health concerns with the organic or even the artificial colorants used in the yolks.

The issue I have is that it isn't honest to market an egg as "Pasture Raised" when birds aren't raised on actual pasture and are basically in a regular factory farm. Using artificial techniques to color the yolks is just a way to trick consumers into paying more for what is effectively the same factory egg. The deception is what bothers me; as a consumer I wonder "what else are they tricking me about?"

Here is where I can give props to Organic Valley. Their eggs are typically raised in regular confinement barns, but at least they are being honest about using colorants to make their yolks darker.

I disagree with their decision to use these colorants, but I applaud their effort to educate the public.

As an experiment, email your favorite expensive grocery brand and try get them to answer the question of if they add anything to their feed designed to change the color of their yolks. Others have taken this challenge when they didn't believe me about how the hens were really raised. Spoiler alert: they won't answer.

It's important for all of us to realize the color of the egg yolk has nothing to do with the quality, health or how well that hen was cared for. Surprised? It's not just you - I also believe yolk color was an important indicator.

One other example of how widespread this is in the industry: A press release about how its great to have "natural" alternatives to the widely used synthetic colorants used in most eggs (and also in the broiler chicken to make their skin and fat different colors)

Basically if your yolk color is consistently the same and there is no seasonal variation, you can rest assured the hens are fed colorants and should take any claims about the hen's welfare with a grain of salt (and maybe a side of bacon and toast).

Card image

Variability is Good

These two eggs were laid by the same hens, raised with the same organic feed and on the same pasture. The only difference was that the one on the left was laid in May when we still had lush pasture from the snow melt and the one on the right was laid in late July. We had green pasture but it was drier than normal after months of almost no rain.

We really should be embracing the variability of our food. Any time our food is exactly the same every single time, that should raise a red flag for us.

In the case of eggs: if your egg’s yolk color has been consistent all year, you may want to ask yourself why. The weather and seasons change. If the yolk color hasn’t varied then whoever is manufacturing those eggs is probably either using a colorant to get the same dark orange yolks every time or is not letting their hens go outside. (Or both!)

Comments (1)

  1. Julie:
    Nov 14, 2022 at 03:45 PM

    Very educational. I didn’t know this about the yolks. Thank you for the information.

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