Buying eggs from a local farmer, or even a neighbor with a backyard flock, is the best way to get healthy, pastured, cruelty-free eggs. And what better way to know your eggs than meeting the actual chickens that laid them?
The next best place to shop for them: Safeway grocery stores. The nation's second-largest grocery chain has now achieved the nonprofit Humane Farm Animal Care's "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" certification for all its store-brand organic eggs and its store-brand eggs labeled "cage free." The egg brands now certified under the program, Safeway's Lucerne Cage-Free, O-Organic, and Open Nature brands, represent approximately 15 percent of the chain's egg sales, according to a company spokesperson.
This is a big move for a major chain. The marketing term "cage free" has always been an unreliable term, yet it has proliferated on egg cartons as people have become more aware of how food is produced. In general, it means that the laying hens were not confined to the tiny battery cages used in most egg operations. But there's no independent third party that vets all those claims, so you really have to take producers at their word.
The Truth about Your Eggs
Humane Farm Animal Care's "Certified Humane" is one of just two certifications that include requirements that hens (or animals raised for any other food) not be confined to cages. The other is the "Animal Welfare Approved" certification from the Animal Welfare Institute. Not even USDA certified-organic operations are required to keep laying hens out of cages.
Now that Safeway has certified all its store-brand eggs under Humane Farm Animal Care, you'll get cleaner eggs when you buy there. Cages generate more fecal dust, and they're difficult to disinfect, leaving eggs from caged hens with a greater potential for contamination that breeds foodborne illnesses like salmonella. Plus, cages are associated with more disease-carrying rodents and insects.
In addition to eliminating cages, "Certified Humane" prohibits producers from using antibiotics and arsenic feed additives, commonly given to conventionally raised hens to increase egg production, and the animals are required to have adequate space to perform natural behaviors, such as scratching and perching.