What do egg labels mean? Egg labels might not be what you think

Egg prices are finally starting to edge down, but they're still up 21% over last year.

You may be paying more for eggs labeled with words like Natural, Pasture-Raised, or Hormone Free. But Consumer Reports says some labels may not mean what you think.

The price of eggs varies widely depending on how they're raised and labeled. For example, in a local Kroger store, we found a dozen generic medium Grade A eggs for $1.69. A dozen labeled Natural and Cage Free were priced at $3.99 and a carton labeled Organic and Pasture-Raised was priced at $8.99.

But if you crack open some egg labels, Consumer Reports says they're not all quite so brown and white. Many of the labels are defined by the USDA.  

Let's start with "Farm Fresh." Guess what?

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"All chickens are raised on a farm. It may not be on a farm with a red barn and a pen in the backyard with chickens, but it could be more of a commercial farm," said Trisha Calvo with Consumer Reports.

Some eggs are labeled No Hormones, but actually, all eggs in the grocery store are required to have no hormones.

"It’s true of all chickens. No chicken by law can be given hormones," said Calvo.

How about the word Natural? Calvo points out that all eggs are made by hens the same way; they're natural with nothing added to the egg.        

"People often confuse Natural with Organic, but Natural has no defined meaning," explained Calvo.  

However, the word Organic means the eggs must meet organic requirements.  The USDA requires that organic eggs come from hens that are given organic feed and no antibiotics.

"But it doesn't necessarily mean the chickens have outdoor access. That’s not part of the organic label regulation," said Calvo.  

So let's talk outdoors. How about the label Pasture-Raised?

"Pasture-raised means nothing by itself. If it is accompanied by the Certified Humane or the American Humane Certified seal, it means the chickens really do have access to a pasture," she said.

Calvo says Cage-Free means the chickens don't live in cages, but it doesn't guarantee they're out pecking around in the sunshine.    

"They can still be raised indoors in very crowded conditions," said Calvo.  

However, she says the words Free Range mean the chickens are Cage-Free with access to the outdoors.


"But that access can be to a very small outdoor area unless it is also accompanied by the Certified Humane label or the American Humane Certified label," said Calvo.

If you want to be sure eggs are really organic, look for the label USDA Organic. And to be sure they're Pasture-Raised or Free-Range chickens, look for Certified Humane or American Humane Certified seals.

And if you're wondering what the difference is between white and brown eggs, the color is determined by the breed of the hen. In general, brown chickens lay brown eggs and white chickens lay white eggs.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lays out the meaning of more egg labels here.