First, you have to understand just what the term free range means, and that its definition can be a matter of perspective. Warning: It’s not all that simple. According to Mother Earth News, true free-range chickens eat a natural chicken’s diet that includes “all kinds of seeds, green plants, insects and worms, usually along with grain or laying mash.” True free-range chickens also spend time out of doors walking around and foraging—something factory farm birds can’t do. And factory farm birds are usually fed cheap mixtures of corn, soy, and cottonseed meals with additives. Here’s the confusing part: The USDA defines free range as birds merely having access to the outdoors. Some manufacturers are taking advantage of this definition by leaving tiny doors open on huge sheds, which in turn leaves the door open for the manufacturers to label their eggs as “free range.” So what’s a consumer to do?
Ancill says: Know what you’re getting for your money. According to Mother Earth News–sponsored tests, free-range chickens produce eggs of superior nutritional value as compared to eggs from factory hens. And when compared to the official USDA nutrient data for commercial eggs, the eggs from free-range chickens contained up to . . .
- Two-thirds more vitamin A
- Double the omega-3 fatty acids
- Triple the vitamin E
- Seven times more beta carotene
- One-third less cholesterol
- One-quarter less saturated fat
To find out the names of reliable sellers of eggs from pasture-raised hens in your area, check out www.eatwild.com or www.localharvest.org.
The Next Idea (www.thenextidea.net) is a Retail Food and Restaurant Consultancy committed to improving the quality and Healthfullness of the products available to the US Consumer.