Thursday, April 10, 2014


There has been a national shortage of organic and natural label eggs in the U.S. for weeks now. In my part of California, there are still store egg counters with no organic eggs and signs up apologizing to customers, stating they have not been able to get enough because of “increased consumer demand.”

This may be just a temporary problem. Some organic egg producers are expanding. However, others wonder whether it makes financial sense to keep producing. They mention the high cost of organic feed, the weather (hens lay less in cold weather), and the new and stricter rules on hen confinement which will take effect in 2015.

But let’s turn to the consumer side. Is it worthwhile for consumers to pay a much higher price for eggs labeled “organic” or “natural”?
First, “organic” and “natural” labels on egg cartons do not mean the same thing. Organic eggs have to be laid by hens which are fed an all-vegetarian diet, and their feed not only has to be free of meat, but also of chemicals, such as pesticides. Nor are these hens supposed to be given antibiotics for preventive purposes in their feed. They are only to be given antibiotics in the case of an outbreak of disease. Usually their living conditions are a bit better too (for instance, they are required to have at least some outdoor access).

“Natural” on the other hand is a much vaguer label for eggs – as it is for other foods as well. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has the final word on such matters, a food product can be called “natural” if it does not contain any added artificial flavor or coloring or chemical preservative, and is at most “minimally processed.” So what does this mean in the case of eggs? Basically, nothing. All whole eggs are “natural” by that definition, and the label has neither health nor animal welfare implications.

So is it worth paying extra for organic or natural-label eggs? I would argue that the answer is definitely “no” in the case of “natural.” As for “organic” - that becomes a personal choice. Studies have found no proof that eggs which are not “organic” are bad for you in terms of the amount of chemicals or antibiotics they carry. But if you are a strict vegetarian, or, feel the extra cost is worth it because of environmental sustainability or humanitarian considerations, or, eating such eggs just gives you assurance that you are eating “healthy food” instead of goop – go ahead if you can afford it.

To your good health,


UPDATE NOTE: 5/15/14 - I notice that the stores I shop at are still selling organic eggs at as much as twice the price of same-size non-organic eggs. That's a big markup.

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