Photo: Choose eggs from happy chickens

Forget sunny-side up, poached or scrambled. When it comes to choosing the best eggs, how will you put the chicken first — free-run, free-range or organic? (Credit: Lindsay Coulter)

Eating a planet-friendly diet includes consuming less meat, eggs, and dairy products. Beyond reducing the number of eggs we eat, be sure that the ones you consume are the most humanely raised or, as I like to call them, "happy chicken eggs".

It can be tricky. These days, egg cartons are emblazoned with claims like "cage-free", "free-run", and "free-range". And these choices matter. Tragically, over 90 per cent of Canada's egg-laying hens are confined in "battery cages" — small wire cubes housing five to seven birds each, beaks cut (to control damage from pecking their cage mates), stacked row upon row upon row in large, windowless barns.

Let's put the chickens before the eggs. Here's a quick guide to navigating egg carton labels, from better to best choice (and don't be fooled by misleading claims like omega rich or fed vegetarian feed):

Cage-free eggs

"Cage-free" means hens are not confined to battery cages, but that's about it. They don't have access to the outdoors, and there are no assurances about what they are fed or what kinds of medications they are given. You might see this claim on all three types of non-battery cage production eggs — free-run, free-range and organic.

Certification: none

Free-run eggs

"Free-run" means chickens can move around in open concept barns, but they don't necessarily have access to the great outdoors and overcrowding may still be an issue.

Certification: none

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Free-range eggs

"Free-range" means hens see the light of day (depending on the weather) and their feet actually come in contact with the earth.

Certification: none

Organic eggs — your best choice! Feb 2011 015.jpg

Hens that produce certified organic eggs benefit from the highest welfare standards. For example, the SPCA Certified label (PDF file of Recommended Labels) assures eggs come from farms that have passed their animal welfare standards. Certified organic labels often require the use of organic feed without growth hormones or antibiotics, too.

Certification: numerous third-party labels like, B.C. Certified Organic (see their full list of certified farms), Canada Organic, Quality Assurance International, and USDA Organic.

Do you have backyard chickens or buy from a local farmer who raises laying hens? How do you source happy chicken eggs?

P.S. This Easter take an all-natural approach to dying eggs using plant-based dyes!

Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green

March 28, 2011

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Mar 03, 2017
5:55 PM

“PC Organics” eggs are a scam. It says supplements with organic feed. This could mean one organic grain was added and the label would be valid. don’t be fooled. Does not say anything about hormone free, pesticide free, antibiotic free, and nothing about only fed with organic feed.

Complete Scam

Oct 11, 2016
12:25 PM

Organic certification has strict standards for how chickens live out their lives. However, you are sadly misinforming your readers by lending definitions to the other labels which have NO LEGAL definition. Just like “product of China” honey may simply be corn syrup, because there is no legal definition as to what is honey exactly… So it is with “free range” “free-run” “cage-free” “omega-3” or whatever other marketing ploy one may find on a sale item. Those are not legal definitions. They mean absolutely zilch. A “free range” chicken might have had the last 5 minutes of its life before butchering as a “free ranging”. There is no legal requirement for the use of any of these labels.

Jul 27, 2016
6:02 AM

We buy the compliments brand organic free range chickens. How do we know they really are organic and/or free range? Thanks

Jun 13, 2016
3:03 PM

Silvia Kindl your eggs are blue because they come from a breed of chickens called Ameraucana. They are actually quite tasty.

Feb 27, 2016
5:14 AM

People are forgetting past history. The reason birds were put in the cages was to keep them safe from parasites that occur in the ground. Some parasites past through the eggs and can affect humans. Any living thing shuts down reproduction first if they are stressed or depressed. If the bird was not happy she will not lay eggs. Some poultry diseases are avoided by keeping the birds off the droppings. A nest laid egg is laid a nest that can contain droppings..a cage has a clean wire bottom were eggs roll away from dirty feet. Are we sure free run is a good thing?

Feb 10, 2016
7:46 AM

Why are organic eggs your best choice? Are they free range?

Jan 06, 2016
3:17 PM

All eggs ARE hormone free! Gosh. Do your research! I sell feed to egg farmers in ontario. If you can show me the feed ingredient(s) that are hormones you can have everything I own and I will be your slave for the rest of my life!

Dec 16, 2015
12:41 PM

Why are not all eggs hormon free. Its time to change also beef I understand that Ontario Chicken is hormon free. Why not all beef pork

In Belgium Holland France they are hormone free. Canada please changes for the health off us all

Jul 11, 2015
2:01 PM

I buy my eggs from a local farmer near my work, and I love it.

May 29, 2015
9:43 AM

I want to find out all I can about living as simply as I can and as healthily as I can. Then I want to pass what I learn on to my children and grandchildren.

Apr 06, 2015
3:41 PM

I know all my eggs come from happy Chickens. I know because I spoil them! Fannie Mae and Dolly have the run of my backyard and they are very happy. I use no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides in the yard. The feed is organic and the leftover food that I feed them is probably 99% organic. And they provide great compost for my garden. It’s a great system.

Mar 04, 2015
1:14 AM

I too was buying these O organic eggs from Safeway only Med size , however in the last month I have seen each egg is stamped with best before date. Would Real Organic eggs have an ink stamp on them? I don’t trust to buy them now , I question if really Organic , says Certified Organic on box , but stamping the egg, this is new. What are tour thoughts . I buy in Calgary AB

Jan 25, 2015
1:34 PM

Thank you for clarifying it all. I bought “Free Run Eggs” and they are blue. Am concerned. Why would they be blue? I will buy organic from now on. Thank you.

Jan 04, 2015
11:34 PM

K.V.: I am finding out there is no such thing as humane — no matter how you label it. See

Jul 13, 2014
8:41 PM

re: Canada Safeway ‘O’ Organics eggs.

I have a carton of these in my fridge right now and I ran to check the label and unlike the label on your picture above, mine states FREE RUN (not free range). What does this mean? That these Organic Eggs (supposedly the pinnacle of egg-dom) are indeed not good enough to grace my home? Why would Organic eggs come from chickens not allowed outdoors?

If you have any information on this discrepancy please let me know. I was most dismayed to see these are Free Run Organic Eggs (and especially so when I note the “O” Organics photo above indicating that carton is Free Range).

Apr 18, 2014
6:47 PM

Organic is NOT the best choice. Free range is. Because organic can still be kept in crappy conditions, free range is not, therefore, happy chickens. Organic is a bonus that comes with many good free range farms. NOT ORGANIC— ORGANIC IS JUST BECOMING A FAD BRAND NAME THAT IS BEING MANIPULATED BY BIG FARMS

Mar 17, 2014
6:42 PM

To Laura, If you open the carton on the Supreme eggs, it gives you more info. They are free run but organic because they are not given antibiotics and I believe their feed is organic, so no GMO.

Feb 27, 2014
5:34 AM

I cook food and freeze it for a man in my food co-op and in return he supplies me with eggs from his pet chooks

Jan 13, 2014
6:48 AM

I’m trying to find out about “supreme” organic jumbo eggs… Are they truely organic, who produces them, (when I google it, nothing comes up about who produces/manufactures them), it doesn’t say anything on the carton about being free range, cage free, open concept….they sell for just under $6.00 at Organic Grarage… What do you think about PC Organic eggs?, or which ones are the best in the Hamilton/Oakville area?

Jan 05, 2014
10:06 PM

Hi Lindsay, I’m new in Canada. I came from Germany, where the chicken eggs are printed with a code, depending on how the hens were raised: 0-organic, 1-free range, 2-free run and 3-battery cage. In some countries in the EU, the #3 is banned (Germany, The Netherlands, Spain…), but not in all of them (I found them in Hungary). I was wondering if there was a similar coding for the eggs in Canada, particularly in BC (in case different provinces had different legislation about it) and if you or anyone here could help me. The thing is that I don’t want to buy the “wrong” kind of eggs, but in most of the cases, the cartons don’t say anything at all, except those with the “organic” labeling. I look forward to your, or anybody else’s answer.

Oct 24, 2013
11:39 AM

I have been in the organic chicken sausage business for over 20 years. We initially chose to use organic birds because of the life allowed the organic birds. Today we need 175,000 of spent hen meat/year, organic of course. If you know of any saurce of such meat, federally inpected, please let me know. Thanks

May 31, 2013
7:39 PM

K.V., they are absolutely incorrect. Cynthia

Mar 13, 2013
10:16 PM

Hey everyone

I just saw this extremely disturbing video….

I know the video depicts condition in the USA

Is it the same in Canada for all animals we consume?

Is there proof?

I want to know the truth

I contacted a major supermarket chain and they said that all the animals salughtered in Canada are treated humanely

Is this true?

Feb 23, 2013
10:54 PM

I do agree that Organic is a better choice but it does not mean that all these chickens are Happy. Most organic hens are spent after only a couple years and then sent to be chicken stock once they no longer produce eggs. Have you seen any roosters around? That is because organic or not, male chicks are still killed at birth since they are of non use in the industry, usually ground up alive or suffocated. I understand educating the public to make better choices and I do thank for that but to say they are happy is to say that it is the best choice and it is not. Some Organic hens are also debeaked… there is a great link to liberation BC that speaks directly to Organic Egg Farming. The best choice is not eat eggs, I feel like that is when chickens are truly happy.

Feb 16, 2013
1:21 PM

Rabbit River Farms offers eggs that are free-range organic bcspca certified in a paper carton. Best I’ve seen yet.

Oct 27, 2012
1:56 PM

I would disagree that organic is best. Pastured is best — chickens should eat bugs, grubs and scratch for the good stuff. Anything the human gives them should be organic, but they should be feeding themselves for the most part.

Mar 17, 2012
7:40 AM

Buying organic chicken feed is next to imposible, I've tried. I've only seen it advertized in the US and it is very expensive and once you figure in the pollution and expence from trucking it, it is not viable. Best solution I could come up with was to feed my chicks duck starter, as it has no ampro (a antibiotic) added and to buy my feed from a small local feed mill, that uses localy grown grain. It's been a strange winter here,(an hour north of Toronto) but my "girls" have been enjoying being out. It worryies me thou… Please keep informing the public that there are cruel free choises, they just have to be informed that there are different solutions if they look. Thank you for your artical, from a small farmer doing her best.

Mar 16, 2012
12:04 PM

I love having our own chickens! We get a variety of blue-green, pink and brown eggs of all different sizes, and often have enough to share with neighbors. Some of our chickens will sit on your arm and chat with you, which takes care of our birdy companionship needs. This eliminates the desire for an indoor caged tropical bird. As people who thrive on interactions with multiple species, this is a big plus for us!

Feb 10, 2012
1:05 PM

I try to go with buying from a local farmer who lets chickens with names roam in a pesticide-free field, munching down on tasty (to them) bugs and organic hormone-free feed. Of course there's no way to ensure the bugs are pesticide-free, but at least the rest of the feed is controlled. We take our own cartons too —- but the chickens don't lay year-round so sometimes we're stuck with buying organic from the store.

Aug 07, 2011
11:06 AM

Is the brand pictured here the only one in a paper container? Every time I see organic eggs they are in plastic containers. I refuse to buy plastic anymore and just cant seem to win with eggs.

Apr 22, 2011
6:57 PM

Thank you for this article… It came at exactly the right time. We are just starting to introduce foods other than breastmilk to our daughter. In an effort to get her iron requirements from non ‘fortified’ and processed sources we were looking at eggs. This article landed in my inbox as I was starting my research. Problem solved — thank you!

Apr 11, 2011
3:39 PM

Good tips today. Thanks! Please will you investigate Melaeucca products. The company has a full range of products most of which are based on the Melaleucca Alternifolia Tree Oil. This tree is an Australian Gum tree and the oil has long been used by the Aboriginals for many medicinal prurposes. I too have used the concentrated oil for many purposes and find it very effective. Their cleaning products are all phosphate free and very concentrated; lasting for ages. The company is USA based and does not have the Canadian Ecofriendly sign. I would like your opinion. Thanks !

Apr 05, 2011
6:53 PM

Thank you for the article. For the last 6 months I have been asking people what the difference was between free range and free run and was not even aware of the organic label. Folks at the grocery store did not know what the labels meant. I now know what to buy. certified organic.

Apr 05, 2011
6:19 PM

While this is a mostly-accurate overview of the uselessness of terms such as “cage-free” and “free-run”, it still unfortunately provides a cloudy picture for those looking for clarity in what they are putting in their bodies.

The term “organic” on its own is completely meaningless. It is not a controlled term. You can call anything organic under any standards- or lack thereof- that you care to dream up. Even the certifications that you mention lack many standards that would truly make egg production humane, healthy, and sustainable.

There is absolutely no substitute for “knowing your farmer”. If you truly care what goes in your body, you will buy eggs from a local farm that you have visited. You need to know the farm’s philosophy, see the animals being tended to, see what they eat and how they’re treated. And, most importantly, see how they are dispatched when they are too old to produce eggs.

I think it’s important to make informed decisions on what I eat, but I do not rely on shiny marketing logos that I know do not mean what they portray.

Apr 05, 2011
5:25 PM

Organic doesn’t mean free-range outdoor chickens, just means the feed is organic and they don’t get drugs. Free-range organic is the way to go.

Apr 05, 2011
4:06 PM

we had our own ‘freedom’ chickens last summer and we loved our girls so very much. we treated them like queens with strawberries and yogurt for breakfast and de’lish garden dinners.. they fed freely on our gardens and hunted in our pond. we treated them well and in return they gave us the most fabulous eggs we’ve ever feasted on. its amazing how you learn to be thankful for such a small creature that gives back. we were happy for them, and they were happy for us. it was very sad when we lost our girls and we look forward to adopting some new ladies this spring. over the winter we have bought our eggs from local backyard farmers. its not a buisness any of them profit from but its pure joy to see how we support them and it brings us happiness that we eat ‘happy eggs’ from happy ‘ladies’… and our kids know it too.

Apr 05, 2011
4:01 PM

Does anyone out there know of farms or places in northern Ontario (Sudbury, North Bay, New Liskeard area) where organic beef, chicken, eggs, etc. can be purchased???

Apr 05, 2011
3:43 PM

i have back yard chickens or urban chickens ,yes they are happy they eat all the compost and scraps(carrott peels ect )every 4 house should have them ,stereriod chicken eggs are pumped with hormones and are not tested and other foods could be the reason for all sorts of cancers ect…

Apr 05, 2011
3:27 PM

Very concerned about news that GM wheat is about to bu unleashed on an unsuspecting Canadian population.

Apr 05, 2011
11:45 AM

Personally, I don’t eat eggs anymore after finding out about the horrors going on in the egg indusrty. Male chicks being ground up alive, chickens so fat that their little legs can;t even support their bodies, living in their own feces, caged their entire lives, beaks being cut off when they are born, workers abusing them. This is unacceptable!

Actually, if you choose to eat eggs, “Certified Humane” are the ONLY eggs you should buy!

Apr 05, 2011
12:00 AM

Eating a planet-friendly diet includes consuming less meat, eggs, and dairy products? That’s not true. Eating a planet-friendly diet includes consuming NO meat, eggs, and dairy products. If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is easy. It is better for your health and for the planet. But, most important, it is the morally right thing to do.

Apr 04, 2011
11:03 AM

Thanks!!! I have spent much time in the grocery store trying to figure out just what the labels meant. I usually wound up with organic because I had no idea the difference between free run, free range, and cage free. Now I know and am so glad that I have been choosing the right one all along!

Apr 04, 2011
8:36 AM

I have 5 beautiful hens that run around my 1 acre plot, eating greens, bugs, dust bathing even jumping into trees — as chickens are naturally supposed to do. They lay the best eggs anyone has ever tasted (so their fan club says!!!) they are easy to keep and each has a different personality, I totally suggest getting your own hens, I have a queue of folks waiting for eggs.

Apr 04, 2011
12:33 AM

If I can’t get organic eggs, I don’t buy. It’s as simple as that. Fortunately, I have just learned that the share of organic eggs sold in Denmark is rising.

Mar 31, 2011
2:15 PM

Quadra gal, Thanks for the note about pasture raised. My goal in this column was to define claims you see most often, illustrating that many are actually not certified claims but created by industry. Of course the best claims, like certified organic and BC SPCA certified eggs likely include pasture-raised birds. It’s just not a certified term. Thanks for bringing this term to my attention, Lindsay Coulter Queen of Green

Mar 31, 2011
10:50 AM

Even better, you would be surprised rewarding it is to keep a couple of hens or ducks for eggs if you have a yard. They are entertaining, often personable and laying fresh organic eggs you can just pad out to the garden coop to gather fresh and warm from under a fluffy hen. I just got mine this year and was so surprised how easy they are to keep , I have already added one more hen . Adding flax and kelp to their grains and allowing my hens to free range during the day in my organic garden , I think I get the best eggs possible.

Mar 30, 2011
8:42 AM

What about pasture raised? Hens that have pasture to wonder and source there own grub must be the happiest chickens of all. Of course. processed feed is always available but they sure eat a lot less when given the opportunity to graze and chow down on the occasional earthworm.

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