Previously in this series:
This is part two in my series of posts where I labor to get to the bottom of all that information that covers those egg cartons that reside in our fridges. Right now I’m looking at an egg carton that was purchased from ALDI a while ago.
ALDI is a grocery store chain that started in Germany and lately has been expanding its presence in the United States. The company website shows that the majority of its supermarkets are located on the East Coast but that they're also moving into the Midwest and California.
The brand logo proclaims these eggs to be “Goldhen Farm Fresh Eggs” and the picture shows a white chicken on a background of radiating yellow stripes at the top and green on the bottom. It is stylized but it the chicken is obviously standing on a grassy hill in the sunshine. Apparently egg companies like to present a bucolic image. Check out the names on the egg cartons next time you’re at the grocery store and notice how words like “country”, “sunny”, “brook”, and “meadow” keep popping up. Following that trend, Goldhen tells us that these eggs are “farm fresh”. What does that mean, exactly? In this day of backyard chickens, the freshest eggs may actually come from the coop in your urban backyard – far, far away from the nearest farm. Of course raising hens on a commercial scale in the city is not practical, so these eggs no doubt came from a farm somewhere out in the country. So how fresh are they? Well, there are “sell by” standards that must be maintained. Were these eggs laid yesterday? Probably not.
Goldhen Farm Fresh Eggs are sold exclusively at ALDI and are a store brand. Like all grocery chains, ALDI puts its brand on a variety of food products sold in its stores. ALDI leaves no doubt that these eggs are their product by printing their generous double guarantee on the front of the carton right next to a “Distributed by ALDI, Inc. label. So they distribute the eggs. That’s not the same as producing the eggs, which is why you probably didn’t notice a chicken coop in the parking lot last time you went to ALDI. So who produced the eggs? Chickens did, obviously. But who owns those chickens?
Interestingly, the carton doesn’t name the company that produces the eggs but just gives a mysterious PO Box. Why are they being so secretive? I have no idea, but it’s not a secret that’s hard to find out about. All I had to do was Google the address and I found that it belongs to Rose Acre Farms, the second largest producer of eggs in US. According to information published last year, Rose Acre Farms owns 25.59 million hens (my flock: 22 hens – OK, guys, you win!). Last year, in a joint venture with Cal-Maine Foods, the country’s top egg producer, Rose Acre Farms started egg production in a cage-free facility in Texas. There are three million hens in that facility alone.
Speaking of cage free, are these Goldhen eggs I’m writing about from cage free hens? There’s nothing on the carton to indicate that they were produced by cage free hens. The Rose Acre Farms website classifies eggs as “Commodity Shell Eggs” and “Specialty Eggs” which include cage-free eggs, vegetarian eggs, and organic eggs. Based on that differentiation I would guess that these eggs are commodity shell eggs and come from chickens kept in inhumane battery cages – it costs more to produce the “Specialty Eggs” and without a doubt if these eggs were from cage-free hens the carton would proclaim that information. What are battery cages? Here’s a paragraph from my post, “Edging Away From Cruel Eggs” to give you the picture:
“Each [battery] cage holds a huge bunch of hens. By law, a hen only has to be given 67 square inches of floor space. A standard sheet of printer paper is 93.5 square inches, so if you imagine a hen sitting on that sheet of paper, she doesn’t even get the whole sheet. The caged hen can’t do any of the things chickens naturally do—no dust-bathing, scratching in the dirt, or nest building. In fact, the cage is so crowded the hen can’t even manage to flap her wings or turn around. What can she do? Well, she can stick her head between the bars of the cage to get food and water, she can lays eggs—right where she stands (they roll down the slanted wire floor to a conveyor), she can poop, and that falls through the wire floor onto the rows of cages below her, just as the poop from the cages above her rain down on her, and basically she can stand in one place for her whole life. From the hen’s point of view, the world outside her cage consists of rows and rows of other cages that fill up a cavernous, windowless barn. The air is filled with the stench and ammonia of accumulating manure, and the sounds of thousands of other chickens.
It is common practice to cut off the end of battery caged hens' beaks. The cage crowding compels the hens to peck each other a lot, so their beaks are "trimmed" (without anesthesia) to prevent pecking injuries. Whether beak trimming causes pain to the chicken is a topic that is debated, with many in the egg production industry saying it does not. A chicken's beak, though, is a complex sensory organ with a robust nerve supply. The presence of nerves would almost certainly indicate that a hen would experience pain when her beak is cut. Behavioral studies have borne this out and some studies indicate that hens with trimmed beaks feel chronic pain the rest of their lives.
Another procedure performed on battery caged hens is forced molting. A hen, after a season of laying eggs, needs to molt in order to renew her feathers. Since hens don’t lay eggs during their molt and since not all of the hens in a flock molt at exactly the same time, it creates annoying imprecision in the well-oiled machine that is the factory farm. So the hens are forced to molt simultaneously by manipulating the light, by withholding water, and by starving them.
It’s sort of ironic that the egg carton features a picture of a hen on a grassy hill in the sunshine, don’t you think? Or maybe I’m wrong and these eggs are from cage-free hens, since we know that some of the Rose Acre Farm facilities are cage free. I reached out to them, but they didn’t respond, so this question will remain unanswered.
So then we get this statement about hormones. What does it mean? Well, it’s a fact that nobody in the egg industry gives hormones to their chickens. So if a carton contains a “no hormones” statement, the FDA requires that it be accompanied with the qualifying statement “No hormones are used in the production of shell eggs.”
And sure enough, if you flip to the back of the carton there’s the qualifying statement. In a smaller font than the “No hormones” statement, mind you. Seems a little underhanded, wouldn’t you say?
The "Grains from local farms" label is an interesting statement. Chickens, of course, need a certain amount of grain to produce eggs or just to live, for that matter. The amount of grain a chicken eats in a lifetime weighs more than the eggs she produces. So even if the eggs are shipped to points far away, it makes for a smaller carbon footprint to ship the eggs instead of the grain. And makes for cheaper production costs, too.
Eggs are indeed naturally gluten free. What is gluten? “Gluten,” Wikipedia tells us, “is a composite of storage proteins…found in wheat and related grains.” Eggs are not grain. Eggs do not now, nor have they ever, contained gluten. So why is this label even on the egg carton? Remember the word I queried about when I was talking about hormones? I think it was “underhanded”.
This looks promising. A seal of approval for animal husbandry standards. Since there are no federal standards on the treatment of chickens, there are a number of non-governmental organizations that can certify a poultry operation as being “humane”. They include American Humane Certified, Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, and UEP Certified. Rose Acre Farms tells us on their website that all of their cage-free facilities are American Humane certified and that all of their facilities are UEP certified “to meet or exceed industry standards for animal welfare, cage space, living conditions, and humane treatment.” The UEP explains on its website that “the majority of American egg farmers voluntarily participate in UEP Certified, choosing to open their farms to independent auditors. Eggs from farms that participate in the UEP Certified program feature the UEP Certified seal on the egg carton.”
The UEP is The United Egg Producers and is an industry group that represents the interests of American egg producers. UEP certification is essentially UEP members giving themselves a pat on the back. Egg producers can maintain their flock in inhumane battery cages and receive UEP certification. While UEP certification is not completely devoid of meaning, egg producers can fail to meet the standards set by any of the other certifying programs and still meet UEP standards.
When we look inside the carton we find three labels. One is simply “Goldhen” - the brand name. Then there’s the safe handling instructions which I discussed completely in last week’s post.
And then there’s Psalms 118:24 “This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I would be more than happy to read this affirming and uplifting statement in the morning when I’m getting ready to scramble some eggs, and I think it’s a statement that anyone can relate to, be they Christian or a follower of another religion. Classy, Goldhen Farm Fresh Eggs! Now, keep the Psalms verse on the carton, but get rid of the marginal statements and get those hens out of cages!
Also in the series:
Also in the series:
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