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Eggs Not Always What They're Cracked Up to Be (npr.org)
182 points by x0054 on Dec 23, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments

The description in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" of egg yolks from idyllically pasture-raised chickens is forever stuck in my memory.

"Between stops, Art mentioned that Joel’s eggs usually gave him his foot in the door when trying to land a new account. We stopped in at one such prospect, a newly opened restaurant called the Filling Station. Art introduced himself and presented the chef with a brochure and a dozen eggs. The chef cracked one into a saucepan; instead of spreading out flabbily, the egg stood up nice and tall in the pan. Joel refers to this as “muscle tone.” When he first began selling eggs to chefs, he’d crack one right into the palm of his hand, and then flip the yolk back and forth from one hand to another to demonstrate its integrity. The Filling Station chef called his staff over to admire the vibrant orange color of the yolk. Art explained that it was the grass diet that gave the eggs their color, indicating lots of beta-carotene. I don’t think I’d ever seen an egg yolk rivet so many people for so long. Art beamed; he was in."

I've yet to find an egg like that, though I've heard you can get them if you raise backyard chickens.

The color of an egg yolk is based on what the chicken ate and has no bearing on how idyllic their lives were. There are plenty of pasture raised chickens without the deep orange color because the plant material around them (you can get nearly white colored yolks from a hen that has literally miles of pasture around them).

If there a lot of capsicum peppers around for instance, the yolks will turn almost red.

How firm it is relates directly to how old it is and how it was treated, regardless of how they are raised. You can get an ultra-firm egg yolk from a factory farmed hen. The eggs you get in a supermarket however are typically several weeks old - long enough for the egg yolk to start to lose its firmness.

I really wish I could find labeling on what the chickens are fed... you really can't get it... I would suspect that Pasture-Raised with supplemental corn feed would be sufficient... I just wish it was part of the labeling.

IMHO it affects the taste and structure of the eggs more than the meat of chickens... I also notice the differences with beef a lot more too in terms of what they were fed. It would be really nice if meat, eggs and dairy could be better labelled as such. Then again, it would be nice to see slow-pasteurized milk make a comeback too.

I agree. The big food companies doesn't like it. So it doesn't happen. My brother in law, who researches the EU food industry told me that there are about 150 purchasing departments in the EU where the majority (I think it was high end, but can't remember the number) of food for 500 million people pass through. That is an awful lot of concentration of power over our food. Not surprising they like obscurity if they make more money that way.

If you look on the egg carton, there should be a 3-digit date code telling you when the eggs were laid. That code is the day number of the year (so 032 would be Feb 1, 182 is July 1, etc). I've gotten in the habit of figuring out which day number it currently is, then at least I know how old the eggs are that I'm getting.

Julian day, FWIW.

The Linux / MacOS 'date' command will give you that:

    date +%j
They make date math easy.

If you want to know a specific date, add the Julian day to Jan 1 for the year:

    date -d "Jan 1 2014 + 358 days"

Would the expiration date not proportionally correlate to the date the eggs were laid?

Well, yeah, but I imagine "what the chicken ate" and "how idyllic their lives were" are pretty closely related. In any case, I've never once found a firm orange yolk in my eggs — supermarket, farmer's market, or otherwise. Joel is probably doing something right here. (Or maybe his eggs are just really fresh, I don't know.)

Good pasture and good nutrition helps for the firmness. If you want a rich, golden yolk, feed them marigold petals. It doesn't take much to really darken the yolk, and our birds seem to like them.

We get a deep, rich golden color from simply giving them cracked corn. That holds all winter as well, as we supplement heavily with cracked corn to help them stay warm.

Yes. I feed mine extra scratch in winter (cracked corn, wheat and something else I forget) to keep their body temperature up in the cold and it does keep the yolks looking good.

Also chicken scraps make a difference.

I picked up a dozen at the feed store last time I was there and except for the fact that the shells were brown or green, the eggs themselves were just like supermarket eggs in appearance and taste. Typical for being raised on the cheapest feed out there.

In the same book, he mentions that they have to keep their chickens inside during the winter, which means no bright orange color to the yolks during those months. Try again when the weather is warm?

Yolk color is a red herring, you can feed chickens in cages many things to affect the color of the yolk, and it has nothing to do with quality of life.

Generally quality of feed correlates to quality of life. Factory farmers aren't going to take the time to make sure a chicken gets greens and reds and yellows in their diet.

Generally. Of course.

Just really fresh I think. Backyard chicken eggs from my coworker are like this. I don't know what the big deal about the firmness of the yolk is, but I'm not a pro chef. Tastes like an egg to me. When she gives me eggs, they last a really long time. She says that the way to tell if their old is by how fragile the yolk is. If it breaks going into the pan, then it's bad.

I went to whole foods and bought a bunch of different brands of eggs and cracked them at home to inspect them. I noticed a big difference between the ones that said "pastured" from all of the others. These were usually the orangest and firmest. The yellowest and weakest were the "omega 3 flax fed" ones. Words like "cage free" and "free range" didn't seem to make a difference.

If various articles I've seen on the topic are to be believed, eggs from pastured hens don't just look and taste different—they're far more nutritious than the rest[1]. I forget which nutrient (and I'm not certain it's even one of the ones listed at that link) but IIRC there's one that's very difficult to come by in the recommended quantities unless you 1) eat lots of insects, or 2) eat eggs and/or meat from birds that eat lots of insects. As one might expect, it's almost completely absent from non-pastured eggs.

See also declining nutrient levels in produce generally[2]. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that our ultra-low food prices, especially the US, amount to a scam.

We've got year-round variety (shipped from hundreds to thousands of miles away), we've got quantity, our produce is colorful (though bland), and our food rarely makes us sick (very nice, to be sure), but if you seek out quality there go convenience (distant 1 day/week farmers' markets versus a dozen nearby supermarkets that operate 24/7) and low prices, plus you've got to remember all the labeling and advertising tricks of the sort mentioned in the article so you don't get screwed.

[1] http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/05/pastured-eggs.... [2] (PDF WARNING) http://www.drapsley.com/Documents/Mineral%20losses%20in%20fo...

> but if you seek out quality there go convenience

These guys deliver good (pastured) eggs to your doorstep:


Free delivery, but only in select markets.

> and low prices

I totally agree with you there, but as you noted, our ultra-low food prices are looking more and more like a scam.

In general, animals that eat grass and things that eat grass (insects, mostly) will have a much higher amount of Omega 3s than those that eat mostly corn and ground up animal byproducts.

iirc all omega3 in non-plants comes from their diet of plants. Similarly we make Omega3 eggs, by feeding them lots of omega 3. Someday we may have omega3 pepperoni pizza by feeding the cows a GMO corn that makes omega3. The more the consumer demands, the more industry will shift to provide, but sometimes it's a comedy. We wanted pasture chickens w/ omega 3 from grass, we got caged birds w/ flaxseed supplements.

Or feeding cows what they "naturally" graze on, namely, grass. Grass-fed beef has substantially more omega-3s than the grain-fed beef we eat today.

Even we humans have a ton more omega-6 in our tissues than we did before, largely because of our diets. In 1961, we ate diets of 5.8% omega-6s, and our adipose tissue concentrations of n-6 were 9%. Today, Americans eat around 9% of their energy as n6 fats, and they are 23%+ of our fat tissue!

Sounds like a sample size of 1-batch was enough to convince you. Maybe you should try it again sometime, see if it's different.

As others have noted in this thread the "muscle tone" of eggs is largely affected by freshness. This is something that you really begin to notice with [sous vide cooked eggs](http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/10/sous-vide-101-all-about-e...) where the distinction between the 'tight' and 'loose' whites can have dramatic effects.

*"As eggs age, both the yolk and the tight white membranes will get thinner and more fragile. At the same time, the tight white will leak moisture into the loose white, diluting the loose white further and causing it to become even runnier."

That description seems very accurate to me. My grandmother (in Panama) raises her own chickens, and I even find the taste of the eggs they produce to be somewhat more intense. The eggs are also slightly smaller so they take less time to cook. I think this could also be due to the breed of the chickens. Incidentally the issue of breeds is one I think is too often overlooked. Here if one wants to raise one's own chickens, one usually buys them from a store no more than two weeks after they're born. It's very apparent that these tend to be of a breed that is more suited for large scale chicken meat production, which means they are more expensive to raise. There's a similar and better documented case http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_pig , which IMO exemplifies one of the many reasons why food diversity is so important.

Actually, commercial egg producing and meat producing breeds are very different. A modern meat bird will be too heavy for its legs to support in about 9 weeks because they grow so fast. Layer breeds are the opposite: skinny so most of their feed goes into producing eggs and not body mass.

The breeds you buy for hobby egg production tend to more general purpose. You are correct in that they are less feed efficient.

Agree with Aloisius about the yolk color. My parents raise sheep and chickens on a farm. During the spring and summer the chickens eat almost all worms, bugs, grasshoppers. The yolks have this color to them. During the winter, the chickens eat feed and table scraps, and the yolks are not as brightly colored nor as flavorful.

About them breaking down over time, that hasn't been my experience. Eggs keep a long time, and at certain times of the year my parents have far more than they can eat. Even after 6-8 weeks in the fridge, the yolks have the same texture and color.

I've yet to find an egg like that, though I've heard you can get them if you raise backyard chickens.

I've seen very firm yolks in the Philippines, where the farm to store time is hours, not days or weeks like in the US. Eggs aren't refrigerated there like they are here, which I found hard to accept, but it turns out that if you wash the eggs on the farm (as is required in the US), you have to refrigerate them. In the Philippines the eggs aren't washed, so they keep a protective coating that keeps the egg fresh without refrigeration.

We discussed this issue a while back. I cannot remember the exact article, but it was along the lines of this one:


According to this, it is an issue of salmonella:

UK eggs, for instance - which typically have more orange yolks than their American counterparts - are stored at room temperature, while those in the U.S. are required by law to be stored at lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to prevent the risk of Salmonella spreading.

British grocery stores and households do not refrigerate their eggs because 90per cent of store-bought eggs in the UK come from hens that have been vaccinated for salmonella.

edit: found it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5325540 It's been almost 2 years. That information was very sticky.

I don't have any links, but IIRC, PA had a pilot program back in the 80s or 90s to test and destroy infected birds. It was a great success but never expanded upon. Producers were able to push the risk and cost onto consumers instead of providing safe food.

Actually you don't need to refrigerate them in the US either.

They'll keep for a few months out of the fridge.

They are kept in the fridge only to keep the yolk firm and hard, it's not necessary to keep them from spoiling.

Based on some experience utilizing RFID tagging in the vegetable and egg packing industries to meet regulatory and supplier freshness requirements:

US FDA final egg rule requires the holding and transporting of shell eggs at or below 45F ambient temperature beginning 36 hours after time of lay.

At a producer of any volume, eggs are gathered 2x daily, generally by automated machinery; occasionally still gathered by hand. Eggs are gathered as soon as hens lay them because warmer temperatures encourage physical/chemical changes that affect "freshness" adversely.

Justification of refrigeration can be found in the response to public comments on FDA final egg rule (where SE = salmonella) [0]:

The 36-hour limit for unrefrigerated holding is supported by a model, contained in the 1998 joint SE risk assessment (Ref. 21), which was developed to examine the relationship among holding time, holding temperature, and yolk membrane breakdown as an indicator of SE risk. (The yolk membrane separates the nutrient-rich yolk and any SE bacteria that might be present in the albumen; breakdown or loss of the yolk membrane results in rapid growth of SE present in the albumen.) The model showed that, at 70 to 90 °F (i.e., temperatures that might be observed in unrefrigerated egg holding areas in farms or warehouses or in transport vehicles), there was much less breakdown of yolk membrane in eggs held no longer than 36 hours than in eggs held no longer than 72 hours. According to the model, eggs held at 70°F will experience at least a 16-percent breakdown of yolk membrane after 36 hours and a 25-percent breakdown after 72 hours. Eggs held at 80 °F will suffer at least a 22-percent breakdown after 36 hours and a 39-percent breakdown in the yolk membrane at 72 hours. At 90 °F, there is at least a 33-percent breakdown after 36 hours and at least a 62-percent breakdown of the yolk membrane after 72 hours.

[0]: [pdf] http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2009-07-09/pdf/E9-16119.pdf

Right, this is only about the freshness of the yolk. It has nothing to do with keeping the eggs from spoiling - they will not.

Your advice seems to contradict the FDA: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm077342....

What is the basis for your claims?

Almost every other country except the US does not refrigerate eggs.

I've personally kept US eggs unrefrigerated for 2 months with no problems - none of them were spoiled.

Refrigeration is mainly for freshness (i.e. yolk firmness). It's not necessary to prevent spoiling.

> Almost every other country except the US does not refrigerate eggs.

Isn't salmonella more of a US problem? It's not that the eggs will spoil, it's that the salmonella will reach a level that makes people sick if you don't overcook the egg.

"Almost every other country" doesn't wash their eggs, which strips the protective cuticle that allows eggs to remain safe at room temperature. They also immunize against salmonella.

Again, do you have any sort of credible scientific basis behind your claims?

I've always thought (assumed) that the eggs 'muscle tone' was a measure of their freshness.

The colour of an egg yolk can be selected by the farmer from charts of colours, much as you'd chose paint.

Some people like deep rich orange colour; others prefer bright pale yellow.

The "standing tall in the pan" is just a fresh egg.

Firmness is almost entirely a measure of freshness. Eggs you buy in the store are at least 1 week old. Eggs fresher than that are very difficult to peel, so they're aged before delivery to the store.

> I've yet to find an egg like that, though I've heard you can get them if you raise backyard chickens.

As a former back yard chicken owner, I can confirm the startling difference between typical store-bought eggs and fresh eggs when grass/greens are in season. They taste cleaner, as well.

The nearly-neon orange/yellow yolks are quite a sight. Over the past 15 years or so, I've noticed many mid-range egg brands seeming to have darker yolks, likely from some additive to the feed explicitly for that purpose -- kinda like dyeing cheddar cheese orange.

A couple sorts you can get from Whole Foods seemed like that to me: Vital Farms and Frenzs. (I haven't seen the latter in some time.) And sometimes eggs from a farmers market, though chances are still against it on any variety I haven't tried yet.

P.S. here was Frenzs vs. a local farmers market in L.A. a few years ago: https://www.flickr.com/photos/abecedarius/4625809089/

Backyard chicken owner here! Yup, very firm yolks. However the color can fade in the winter when they don't get many greens or sunlight. Evidently you can add turmeric to their feed to enhance the color, but I've never cared to try.

There's an interesting later passage about exactly that:

"Joel told me that when he first began selling eggs to chefs, he found himself apologizing for their pallid hue in winter; the yolks would lose their rich orange color when the chickens came in off the pasture in November. Then he met a chef who told him not to worry about it. The chef explained that in cooking school in Switzerland he’d been taught recipes that specifically called for April eggs, August eggs, and December eggs. Some seasons produce better yolks, others better whites, and chefs would adjust their menus accordingly."

Interesting! Thanks for sharing. Here's hoping eggnog calls for winter eggs!

One of many benefits of living in a semi-rural area (western South Dakota) is easy access to truly high-quality foods like actual farm eggs. I've walked around the two farms I buy eggs from and I've seen the chickens wandering around. They get ordinary feed, of course, but also scavenge insects and other things, resulting in gorgeous orange yolks and tasty eggs. I pay $2 a dozen (as long as I promise to return the egg cartons to be reused), or sometimes just trade some fresh produce for the eggs.

Almost all of my meat (beef, lamb, goat, and pork) is similarly purchased from small producers I personally know; often my family and I butcher the animals ourselves. This approach is a win in terms of quality, cost, humane treatment of animals, and satisfaction.

Having a connection to my food and the people who produce it is, to me, reason enough to prefer living in fly-over country vs. San Francisco. All the fresh air, open land, and lower stress environment doesn't hurt either.

The study is funded by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply [1] which is "facilitated" by the Center for Food Integrity [2], which is run by a PR firm on behalf of ConAgra, Monsanto, Tyson, and others.

It makes me sad that NPR is slowly turning into just another mouthpiece.

[1] http://www2.sustainableeggcoalition.org/

[2] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Center_for_Food_I...

A CFI-supported study is mentioned in the article, but NPR also mentions other organizations, like the Cornucopia institute, that I can't find any bias on. There seems to be multiple sources for this NPR article here, meaning I don't think NPR has degraded to mouthpiece status just yet.

One additional note: this is a survey article, not based on a single study. This seems to be the case of NPR staff using a questionable reference, not just rewriting a press release.

The day the Senate torture report broke, NPR referred to torture as enhanced interrogation.

Poisoning the well much? Even if true, one biased article does not make them into "another mouthpiece."

It says more about you than anyone else if knowing the names of the founders makes the data seem unreliable.

Propaganda works both ways, and Sourcewatch has a massive blind spot when it comes to anti-corporate propaganda. Their page on Monsanto is full of uncritically repeated propaganda from the likes of Vandana Shiva.

Backyard chicken farmer here! If you have a bit of yard space and time they make wonderful pets. About as difficult to care for as cats and what they lack in cuddles they make up for in hilarious/idiotic behavior.

I doubt it saves me any money, but it's fun and provides lots of "organic pasture-raised" eggs and compost.

They are also a great way to reduce your waste. We send all of our kitchen scraps to the chickens, and they give us eggs in return. They also keep the area under our apple tress fairly clear for us, eating all the insects that otherwise would be in our trees, and keeping the mice away. And they get to munch on any fallen apples.

Works out well for the chickens and for us.

> And they get to munch on any fallen apples.

Hmm, I wonder if they like lemons...

Be careful with birds and citrus. Do some googling.

Just don't let them near anything you don't want them to defecate on. They will defecate everywhere they go, including on expensive equipment and cars when they sneak into your garage.

It makes me really happy that you talk about chicken poop and your nick is nitrogen.

Heheh. I do embedded and back-end development, so my nick is actually a reference to the fact that nitrogen is the most common gas in Earth's atmosphere that, like embedded firmware and back-end software, is absolutely essential and inadequately appreciated.

My first real job (25 years ago... at age 15) was collecting eggs at a medium-sized commercial egg farm. Maybe I didn't care about "organic" or "cage-free" at age 15 or nobody cared 25 year ago, but we were one of those "battery cage" farms. It was long buildings with 5 rows of double stacked cages. The floor of the cage was slanted so that the eggs rolled out into a trough in the front. We'd push a narrow cart down the row and collect the eggs into trays. It was brutal for both humans and chickens. I didn't eat eggs or chicken for awhile after that.

How could you start again if you didn't forget?

Knowing that some eggs come out bloody and birds die is one thing. Handling those bloody eggs and dead birds every weekend is an entirely different thing. I moved on from that job and after a while just knowing was not as "traumatic" and eggs/chicken was no longer repulsive to me.

I'm usually not one to care much about where my food came from, but the one thing I pay attention to, for some weird reason, is eggs. I think the idea of trapping chickens in cages for their entire lives and having them produce eggs for us is revolting, a real-life Matrix situation. I'll pay a few bucks extra to make sure that the chickens get at least a modicum of better life than being trapped in a cage for their entire lives.

And for the male chicks, death in the high speed grinder. I wonder if they ever even get to see the daylight in their miserable short lives?

Not sure if it is any consolation but at least "their entire life" is not that long. When I worked at an egg farm (25 years ago), we replaced the flock each year. If I recall correctly, the outbound birds were used to make dog food and such.

Yet another reason not to eat chicken-periods.

Given how much HN loves to bring up the studies that show people fail at tasting wine, it's surprising that nobody has talked about how double blind studies consistently reveal that there's no perceptible taste difference between different types of eggs (once color is controlled for):

Washington Post:

> The egg industry has been conducting blind tastings for years. The only difference is that they don't use dish-towel blindfolds; they have special lights that mask the color of the yolks. "If people can see the difference in the eggs, they also find flavor differences," Curtis says. "But if they have no visual cues, they don't."

> Only one factor can markedly affect an egg's taste, and that is the presence of strong flavors in the feed. "Omega-3 eggs can sometimes have a fishy taste if the hens are fed marine oils,"


Serious Eats:

> It was pretty clear evidence that as far as eggs go, the mindset of the taster has far more bearing on the flavor of the egg than the egg itself.


Journal of Product and Brand Management:

> Respondents indicated that darker yolk color results in better taste, whereas results of a blind taste test indicated that consumers were not able to distinguish any significant difference in the taste of different types of eggs and yolk colors (Fearne and Lavelle, 1996b). Similarly, respondents indicated that brown regular and specialty eggs are tastier than white regular eggs. Fearne and Lavelle (1996b) reported that in a blind test consumers could not make a distinction between the tastes of regular and specialty eggs.


It's an extremely potent example of confirmation bias since even people who are normally quite science minded and skeptical somehow find loopholes that exempt their personal experience as not conforming to the data when confronted with evidence that their fancy eggs taste no better.

Richer taste would be a nice bonus, but I get pastured eggs for nutrition and ethics.

The article somewhat pans Certified Humane, but apart from raising your own chickens or buying from a farmer you trust, it's far and away the best alternative that you can find at many grocery stores.

Their comparison chart gives a good overview of the program[1], but here are a few key facts:

* It's a completely independent organization, that maintains that independence very intentionally.

* It has rigorous compliance and inspection requirements, and everything about the program is transparent and available online.

* The birds are required to be out of doors at least 6-hours per day, every day, year round, with 108 sq. ft. per bird.

Animal Welfare Approved is another good, independent and transparent program, but I've never actually seen them in a grocery store.

[1] http://certifiedhumane.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Laying...

Most of the time we use eggs, it is just needed as "glue" to make things stick together, or for leavening, moisture etc. This can easily be replaced by tapioca flour and water, flax and water, or some other substitute. It'probably cheaper as well. Save the eggs for your quiches, omeletes and the like where it actually makes a difference.


Shameless plug, the company I (just started) working at connects producers with consumers. We handle the logistics of getting the fantastic products from our producers to you.

If you are in the sf bay, nola, la, or nyc, check it out at http://goodeggs.com

Here is the SF egg section (we deliver to sf, east bay, and the peninsula)


I was shocked to read that eggs generally have pleasing deep-yellow or orange-red yolks because the egg industry spends a lot of money to put special additives into chicken feed just for that purpose. There's no other benefit from those additives.


I think about that now every time I see a pleasing, healthy-looking, tasty-looking deeply yellow yolk on my plate.

Mine have that colour because they eat a lot of weeds and vegetables. The only thing they eat which isn't food scraps or something that's lying around the garden is shell grit, quite literally ground up sea shells to make sure they have enough calcium for their egg shells. Don't always assume that it's an artificial thing, what they're emulating is a natural process. It really is a pleasure to see happy hens roaming around too, even if they didn't lay breakfast and cake material.

Feeding marigold petals will darken a yolk pretty well, nothing artificial there.

I've cut down on my calcium supplement usage by drying and crushing the eggshells and giving those to the birds.

> I've cut down on my calcium supplement usage by drying and crushing the eggshells and giving those to the birds.

Seems like there's potential to get prion diseases there. Are chickens susceptible to prion diseases?

Maybe compost the shells, then grow collards, kale and turnips in the soil and feed the less-appetising greens to the chickens?

Prions are in brains, not eggshells. Mad cow disease was caused by cows eating the crushed up brains of other cows, which is in itself a charming illustration of the ethics of our industrial food system.

Prions are misfolded proteins; while prion diseases occur in the brain, I do not know of any evidence that the prions themselves are not found throughout the nervous system. Are they in fact isolated to the brain?

(Long after the fact, so probably missed the boat. Also, I'm Not An Expert on This, so grains of salt, etc.)

My understanding of Mad Cow was that the prions involved were ones which were allowed to pass the blood/brain boundary, which keeps arbitrary chemicals in food from having a big effect on our neurological state. (Drugs like MDMA imitate certain chemicals used by the brain and are thus allowed to pass by.) One of the reasons cannibalism - especially when brains are involved - is that the brain proteins look like your brain proteins, and are thus expected to be on the 'brain' side of the boundary. So when cows eat dead cow brains, they get serious neurological diseases, just like human cannibals are known to. Prions may be arbitrary bad proteins, but they're especially problematic in the case of eating brains.

Interesting. I've never heard of anyone having that issue. Honestly, I'm just doing what the old timers tell me they did. I've not seen any detrimental side effects but now I'm going to do my research.

Well, they're responding to what people like. Additionally, they have to compete with the "natural" and "organic" trend. If they didn't try to make their eggs look like whatever people/society currently deem normal then the "natural" and "organic" competitors would have successfully manipulated the market. And we'd all be eating overpriced food that probably only has the added benefit of looking like what we think natural food should look like.

The most informative thing for me was that "organic" actually has a definition by USDA:


Up until now the med student in me had the jerk reaction that "organic" meant carbon-based (+ nightmares from ochem), which applies to almost everything we eat.

Although I knew that "organic" is regulated, I did not know that it implied free range, which is theoretically better than the cage free that I usually buy.

An additional note from the organic egg scorecard, linked from the article, is that store-brand eggs tend to come from farms with poor conditions:


I would guess that to have the scale to sell eggs to a chain store you need the more industrial conditions that scorecard doesn't like. All that special treatment means less chickens and higher prices.

There is a word for that in the food industry: 'All Natural.' Sounds good, but actually means nothing (what is / isn't natural?), and isn't legally monitored.

"All Natural" actually does have a broad definition, it's just not a very good one:

> However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

There is no exact definition, because it's hard to define.


I've know these for a while and always look for pastured eggs but never find them outside of a farmer's market.

>No Hormones... It's like putting a label on a cereal box that says, "No toxic waste."


Many farmer's markets in SF have actually banned non-pasture-raised eggs (which, as it turned out, only affected one company based out of Petaluma which markets their eggs under 4-5 different small-sounding brands in the Bay Area): http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/01/pasture-raised-industria...

Where do you recommend to get good pasture raised meat and eggs in SF?

Of course an article on our food system is in all of our interests (Soylent customers, perhaps, excepted) but I'm always happy to see an article like this at the top of hn. I feel that this industry is particularly ripe for innovation, and it's where I'm presently working. Though it turns out, feeding and watering all the animals every day takes up all that time I thought I'd have to design new systems to track egg consumption and greenhouse temperatures with my Arduino.

Turns out all that work outside is just as gratifying without the electronic hassles I imagined I'd bring to it.

I sell eggs from chickens which I believe have the best possible life, and I hesitate to use most of the terms listed here, even the most positive ones, because of their lackluster connotations. I know what "free range" means in the minimal application of the spectrum, so where my birds have acres to forage for food, someone else may not be so generous. I don't want us classified under the same umbrella. So I invite all my customers to come and see where their food is grown, in the environment where I believe it should all optimally come from.

And yes, the eggs are healthier, firmer, and last longer (not refrigerated) and vary depending on what the chickens have foraged that day. Not to mention the beautiful rainbow of their shells, which vary depending on the breed.


systems to track egg consumption and greenhouse temperatures with my Arduino

That's funny! I planned on doing exactly the same thing when I started keeping chickens about 6 years ago. I got as far as building an LED lamp to add extra light to keep them laying in winter. Never used it (except to check up on them at night).

I guess if I was doing this commercially it would be worthwhile, but for a hobby flock of a dozen it hardly makes sense.

It's so wonderful to now live in a forthright European country that cares for their citizens and doesn't permit this kind of fraudulent advertising of unnatural and unhealthy modifications of foods. Firms like Monsanto are barred from the country as are GMOs in general and you'd be hard-pressed to find anything other than natural eggs from free-range chickens, untreated with any hormones or antibiotics. It seems the inverse is the case in the US.

Why do you support banning GMOs? I don't mean to be snarky, but I don't know of any good scientific case for doing so. In my estimation, GMOs are one of the most promising technologies for increasing quality of life around the world.

There are logical reasons for being against GMOs. Many of them have nothing to do with the fact that the product is GMO:

* GMOs tend to promote monoculture and pesticide use.

* Studies have shown that the same developments that make GMOs more insect resistant can also make them more difficult to digest.

* When it comes to animals, GMOs tend to have much poorer quality of life and tend to be completely incapable of surviving without constant support (chickens who can't stand on their own, cows who can't go more than 48 hours without milking, etc).

* GMOs almost never focus on the true value of a food item, but rather the sell value. A food that looks nutritious is more valuable than one that actually is and GMOs make it easier to create that false association (deep red tomatos that taste like wall paper glue, etc).

It's important to note that all of these things are really a byproduct of industrial agriculture, but many people associate them more directly with GMOs. I think the development of GMOs is a completely normal part of our agriculture and has been for thousands of years, we just need to make sure we're responsible about it.

> * GMOs tend to promote monoculture and pesticide use.

That's true for industrialized agriculture in general and not specific to GMOs. Growing GMOs doesn't promote monoculture or pesticide use any more than growing conventional crops do. In fact the same farmers that grow GMOs often grow conventional crops at the same time, or switch from year to year, with very little change in their practices.

> * Studies have shown that the same developments that make GMOs more insect resistant can also make them more difficult to digest.

Without knowing what studies those are, it's impossible for me to rebut or defend it. I will say, the record on studies that claim to show that GMOs have safety issues is not a good one (http://academicsreview.org/2012/09/scientists-smell-a-rat-in...)

> * When it comes to animals, GMOs tend to have much poorer quality of life and tend to be completely incapable of surviving without constant support (chickens who can't stand on their own, cows who can't go more than 48 hours without milking, etc).

I am not aware of any GM livestock in use. Monsanto, the bogeyman of anti-GMO activists, does not research or produce GM animals. AFAIK the only GM animals on the market are things like glowing goldfish.

> * GMOs almost never focus on the true value of a food item, but rather the sell value. A food that looks nutritious is more valuable than one that actually is and GMOs make it easier to create that false association (deep red tomatos that taste like wall paper glue, etc).

Again this is a broader symptom of industrialized food production and is not related to GMOs. Yes, there are GM traits that are meant to do what you expect (e.g. the Flavr Savr tomato which was a commercial flop, and the Arctic Apple which is just recently rolling out) but this is a trend that goes back decades.

Funding for GMO seed development is a hard problem, so the only people really doing it are the monsantos of the world. Which pretty much guarantees that the product is going to be fubar. You can bet that industrial seed research, if it were subjected to any rigorous safety standards, would go much the same way as industrial drug design, with all of the falsified studies you care to count. As it is, it's easier to ban the practice than trust the big producers.

The Open Source Seed Initiative is doing some really cool work to change this, and sits at an interesting place in the GMO debate. But barring a huge amount of institutional and policy support, I'm sticking on the side of banning GMO's.

> Funding for GMO seed development is a hard problem, so the only people really doing it are the monsantos of the world.

This is emphatically not true, unless you mean it in the trivial sense (where "monsantos" are "any companies funding GMO seed development".)

Its not quite as inaccurate as saying the microsofts of the world are the only people really funding software development, but its the same kind of inaccurate.

There are new concerns specifically about the effect of GMOs on biodiversity: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Genetically_modifi...

"When it comes to animals, GMOs tend to have much poorer quality of life and tend to be completely incapable of surviving without constant support (chickens who can't stand on their own, cows who can't go more than 48 hours without milking, etc)."

I am sure we do not we need genetic manipulation to create such animals (regular breeding does 'wonders', too) and do not know of any case where we used GM here. Care to elaborate?

Your first two points are good for GMOs, but the other two are the result of breeding efforts rather than lab work. There are no GMO cows and chickens in high commercial production, and FWIW no GMO tomatoes either.

Then again, GMOs and conventional breeding taken to a commercial extreme get tangled so often it's hard to separate them in these sorts of arguments.

The first GM crop to be licensed for human consumption in the US was the Flavr Savr tomato, which contained a trait that improved their shelf life and appearance. It was a commercial flop and taken off the shelves after a few years on the market.

I had grouped in intensive breeding with more Dr. Moreau style GMO development. In my mind, there isn't a huge difference.

> * GMOs almost never focus on the true value of a food item, but rather the sell value. A food that looks nutritious is more valuable than one that actually is and GMOs make it easier to create that false association (deep red tomatos that taste like wall paper glue, etc).

A more nutritious food that nobody wants to eat is a food that is not of improved value.

> There are logical reasons for being against GMOs.


> Many of them have nothing to do with the fact that the product is GMO:

Then they aren't logical reasons to be against GMOs, though they may (or may not) be logical reasons to be against particular GMOs.

> * GMOs tend to promote monoculture and pesticide use.

GMOs may or may not do this. This really depends on what they are designed for -- GMOs designed to be well adapted to particular growing conditions don't promote monoculture, since you'll prefer different ones for different growing conditions.

> * Studies have shown that the same developments that make GMOs more insect resistant can also make them more difficult to digest.

Insect resistance isn't the only feature GMOs are designed for, and that is -- at most -- a reason to be against GMOs designed for that particular feature in food roles.

> * When it comes to animals, GMOs tend to have much poorer quality of life and tend to be completely incapable of surviving without constant support (chickens who can't stand on their own, cows who can't go more than 48 hours without milking, etc).

Again, that's an argument against the specific features, not against GMOs.

> * GMOs almost never focus on the true value of a food item, but rather the sell value. A food that looks nutritious is more valuable than one that actually is and GMOs make it easier to create that false association (deep red tomatos that taste like wall paper glue, etc).

That's an argument against capitalism, not GMOs.

> It's important to note that all of these things are really a byproduct of industrial agriculture, but many people associate them more directly with GMOs.

That makes them illogical, even if understandable reasons to be against GMOs.

Increased pesticide use can be a bit misleading, since an increased amount of something like Roundup could still be better for the environment than the typical amount of alternative pesticides.

Because Monsanto

It's that simple

GMOs, surely, are just a technology

For those of you undecided on the GMO question: If you do nothing else this month, I implore you to watch The World According to Monsanto [1]. A mind bogglingly awesome documentary featuring a copious amount of boots on the ground and expert testimonial.


I place "The World According To Monsanto" in the same league as "Zeitgeist" and "Loose Change". Great if you want affirmation of your worldview, pretty underwhelming if you're interested in facts.

I'll take my facts from doctors, university professors, whistleblowers and affected families over corporate mouthpieces any day, thank you very much. Experts interviewed include:

- Robert Bellé, Ph.D., French National Center for Scientific Research

- Dan Glickman, US Secretary of Agriculture, 1995-2000

- John Hoffman, Vice President of the American Soybean Association

- Richard Burroughs, D.V.M, FDA Veterinarian, 1979-1989

- James Maryanski, Ph.D., Biotechnology Coordinator at the FDA, 1985-2006

- Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist of the Consumers Union

- Samuel Epstein, Ph.D., President of the Cancer Prevention Coalition

- David Carpenter, Ph.D., University of Albany

"...you'd be hard-pressed to find anything other than natural eggs from free-range chickens"

Which European country is that? Battery cages are banned in the EU, but caged hens are still permitted as long as the space in the cage meets EU welfare standards.

In Sweden most of the large supermarket chains have stopped selling caged eggs or limited to selling them when supply is short[0]. Less than 10% of eggs sold are from caged hens.[1]

Of course, any pre-fabricated food will still contain caged eggs since that doesn't have to be declared in the ingredients.

[0] http://www.dn.se/ekonomi/matkedjor-slutar-med-agg-fran-burho...

[1] http://www.landetsfria.se/artikel/114064

I agree. I have nothing against researching how to modify food to be better (emphasis on better, not just "cheaper with compromises") or how to create food entirely in labs.

However, I don't want to be a "beta tester" of such food in the 2-10 decades it will take to perfect it. When there's been 3 decades or independent reviews for a particular lab-grown food, then you can start putting it in local supermarkets where everyone can buy it without giving a moment's thought about whether that food is "safe to eat or not?". I think it's the government's jobs to ensure it doesn't happen earlier than that.

In contrast, here are the regulations in Sweden (probably similar elsewhere in the EU):

* Battery cages: Banned

* "Caged hens": Cage size must be at least 750 cm^2. Must have sand, a nest, and a stick to sit on.

* "Free range indoors": Floor space must be at least 1,111 cm^2 per hen. 1/3 of the floor area must be sand or similar. Must have access to a nest, at least 15 cm of stick to sit on.

* "Free range outdoors": At least 1,111 cm^2 space per hen. Must have access to an outdoors area of at least 4m^2 per hen. Same sand/nest/sitting stick rules as indoors.

* "Organic": At least 1,664 cm^2 space per hen. Outdoors area of at least 4m^2 per hen. Outdoors area must have grass growing. 1/3 of floor area must have sand or similar, must have a nest, must have a sitting stick of at least 18 cm. Must be fed with organic feed.

* "KRAV Organic certified": Organic + Must have access to root vegetables to eat at. The farm can't be leaking stuff from the fertilizer into the surrounding nature.

Many of the large supermarket chains have stopped selling caged eggs completely, which now make up less than 10% of sold eggs. Around 12% are organic.

Swedish eggs are 100% salmonella-free.

1111 cm^2 isn't that much. It's only a square foot of space... I used to raise chickens, they need at least 4 times that.

Yeah, in contrast, a sheet of A4 paper is 620 cm^2. So they have less than two pieces of paper to stand on.

> Swedish eggs are 100% salmonella-free.

Interesting! How do they accomplish this?

I get pasture raised eggs from a farm in Petaluma which has a CSA I use. They are very good, come in a wide variety of shell colors and the yolks are a deep yellowish orange, but I'm not necessarily sure they are necessarily worth the $8.50 a carton (technically, they are only grade A because of the variance). On the other hand, a dozen eggs from a decent producer will usually run $4/dozen. I'd recommend them for egg dishes, but maybe not so much for general culinary usage.

Wow that's expensive, I raise chickens for eggs that are 100% organic. My costs are about $.66 a dozen (90% of their feed is free range around my house). That CSA is literally printing money. Talk about perceived value!

That is not what literally means.

I'm trying to figure out if this was a subtly intentional pun or a coincidence of phrasing:

> Pasture-raised birds spend most of their life outdoors, with a fair amount of space plus access to a barn. Many are able to eat a diet of worms, insects and grass, along with corn feed...

cf. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diet_of_Worms

We often forget to remember that chickens have not an human brain.

The subliminal (and fake) statement in all those articles is that the chicken are a sort of "small little people crying" living very sad lives because they don't live like humans do. This is simply terrible.

Living in a farm, even in the best of farms, at Texas or New Jersey, could be perfectly claimed as a totally artificial and unnatural live for the point of view of a chicken. They are rainforest birds "cruelly" placed at deserts or in states with harsh winters living inside for 6 months a year. There are many reasons because a chicken could not to want to go outside. The claimed "because the farmer is a jerk" is wrong often.

They can do this because they are adaptable, and they just don't care so much as we do. But this is NOT natural for this species. If we really wish that chickens live "happy chicken lives" maybe we should grow them only in countries like Venezuela or Brazil...

Only reading the title I thought it would be a discussing about fake eggs in chine being a hoax [1]

But anyways, this is just more confirmation these jargons in labels mean almost anything useful for the general public. The article reminded me that funny "natural effect" videos [2] and also that the whole GMO labelling issue that still make people argue.

And in the end of the day, all I have seen so far is a lot of fear mongering and no debate wether real useful information should be added to labels, like 'how far and for how long did this food traveled', 'how long was it kept in storage' and so on...

[1] http://sguforums.us/index.php/topic,43295.msg9275536.html#ms...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AftZshnP8fs

Handy link from the article if you want to be a bit pickier about the eggs you buy: http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/

Good for them, "Pasture-Raised" just booted out "Free Range" in my personal egg-shopping check list.

For those that are interested, I've found that Certified Humane eggs are the easiest to find and that label carries weight. It's usually $4-$5 for a dozen, more expensive than factory eggs but still pretty cheap for food in general. AWA is stricter, but I've never seen AWA eggs.

I wonder how closely this applies to eggs in Australia. I will keep a look out "pasture raised", as I do like to buy better quality, more humanely sourced eggs.

It's articles like these that make me love coming to HN, regardless of the fact that there's no "hacking" per se.

Note that this is only indicative of the USA. In Canada Organic eggs are generally what you should be buying. They are about 50 cents an egg and are the most strict on the humaneness of a chicken's life.

Its pretty bogus how the FDA gets lobbied for things like this, and it ends up convoluting the message to the american public. For instance, read this article on how 'organic' / 'antibiotic-free' eggs were still able to be treated by antibiotics as long as it was early in the eggs life:


Even this Q & A is not the most straightforward on what the antibiotic process is, instead hiding behind 'meets FDA regulations'. http://www.uspoultry.org/faq/faq.cfm

Most useful link in the article: http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/

The evidence appears to be in about "omega-3 eggs". There are quite a few studies showing the benefits of eating them over conventional eggs:


A quote from one of the studies on that page:

"Three n-3 PUFA-enriched eggs provide approximately the same amount of n-3 PUFA as one meal with fish.""

Can pretty much sum up the entire organic/"natural" food craze of the past decade with: advertising as usual.

Good article. Nothing new to see here though. Hopefully this will wake up some people though who exclusively go for the brand name stuff at Whole Foods.

Except Organic is actually a regulated term.

this article boils down to the comments.

"They usually live in aviaries: massive industrial barns"

Oooh, industrial barns...

"And often, Kastel says, industrial fans that suck..."

Oooh, industrial fans. As opposed to the ones that grow on trees.

"One of the most common causes of death was pecking by other chickens."

You mean we give them more freedom, and they kill each other? I thought 'natural' was meant to mean all rainbows and happiness and shit.

> You mean we give them more freedom, and they kill each other?

They are in crowded conditions. Humans do the same things will kept locked up in crowded conditions.

What are you arguing is akin to saying that humans need to be locked up in solitary confinement because if you keep them "free" in close quarters they will start committing acts of violence against each other. You would have a hard time arguing that the Japanese in US/Canadian "relocation centres" should have been kept in solitary confinement because there were instances of "inmate-on-inmate" violence/rape.

> They are in crowded conditions. Humans do the same things will kept locked up in crowded conditions.

Many animals do. Goats are downright nasty little shits with each-other, if they have horns (even w/o)

Hens very much have a "pecking order", and can be pretty brutal to one another even with ample space to roam and feed. Don't get me started on most roosters, though we did raise some that were downright gentlemanly to their ladies. Quail in crowded conditions (we raised Coturnix) can damned near skin each-other alive if a sufficiently picked-on bird gets too damaged.

Either bird will pick at open wounds on others. Not certain what that behavior was about, but is ain't good for the birds in either case.

Don't think I was 'arguing' anything really. Just commenting on the irony. Nature tends to be brutish and nasty, quite the opposite to the picture that your typical urban-living organic food enthusiast has.

> your typical urban-living organic food enthusiast has.

I somehow doubt that you've actually talked to many vs. just holding some gross generalization of an idea about what "those people" think.

My wife is one, so I somehow doubt you have a clue.

I said "many" vs. "any" for a reason. Some people form judgemental ideas of an entire group/class of people based on limited experience with them. Limited may just mean "caricatures" of said group in popular media, or may mean "I know this person and his/her friends (i.e. small number of people) that think a certain way."

That said, I don't think continuing this thread further provides any value, and has the potential to just devolve into a flame war for various reasons.

> Oooh, industrial barns...

Yes, as in "not the red family farm barn they have on the packaging".

> You mean we give them more freedom, and they kill each other? I thought 'natural' was meant to mean all rainbows and happiness and shit.

Imagine a prison where you've replaced all the individual cells with one big cramped holding cell. Violence will break out.

But strictly speaking, the [size|style|color] of the barn has little to do with anything if you put too many birds in it.

Do you think the chickens give a shit what colour the barn is?

No, but if you do a GIS for "barn" you'll find virtually every top result to be a red barn. Here's a screen shot: http://cl.ly/image/3G2w3N2a3d1e/Screen%20Shot%202014-12-23%2...

I'm saying chicken/dairy/etc. producers will happily use this stereotypical image in their marketing, but the reality of how they're raising the animals is very different.

In other (not) news:

-Land O Lakes butter is not hand delivered by pretty Native American ladies.[1]

-Tigers don't actually eat Frosted Flakes and you should not let them play baseball with your children.[2]

-Many, many, many other examples of the gap between marketing and reality.

[1] http://static.atlantablackstar.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/0...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cXF3KyLdhc

True enough, but the positive response you feel to a red barn is just as illogical as the negative response you feel towards the word 'industrial' as applied to barns or fans. Do you see the irony in an article debunking these feel good labels applied to the eggs, by applying negative labels instead to evoke pictures of industrial factories, etc.? Do you really think the chickens are bothered by the colour and style of their barns?

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