Report on Organic Eggs

Orange Yolks

Eggs with Orange Yolks

by Catherine Haug

(photo, right, by Keith Blaylock)

By now we all know the truth about commercial eggs: the hens are confined to tight and unclean spaces, with little or no access to the outdoors, and they produce eggs of inferior nutritional quality (see my post Eggs: A Buyers Guide). But what about Organic eggs – can we trust the Organic label?

The Cornucopia Institute recently published their review of 77 Organic egg producers/labels across the country, based on 22 criteria across 9 categories, then ranked the brands from 1 to 5 eggs See:

You will be happy to note that Mission Mountain Eggs from Ronan MT ranked 5 eggs, their highest rating (these are sold at Bigfork Harvest Foods).

Unfortunately, Cornucopia researchers found that: “Some of the factory farm operators literally raise millions of birds (both conventional and organic) with as many as 85,000 “organic” hens in single buildings.”

Remember that if you don’t raise your own, the absolutely best and freshest eggs come from a neighbor who raises them in pasture. See Who Is Your Farmer? (Farm Hands)?

Criteria Categories:

You can view all criteria on the Cornucopia site: Ratings for Organic Egg Scorecard. Their criteria fell into the following groupings:

  • Ownership Structure (from family farm to investor-owned public corporation);
  • Organic Certifying Agency (based on reliability of certification process);
  • Egg Supply (from single-family farm, to vertically integrated corporate business model);
  • Disclosure (from full and open, to no cooperation);
  • Commitment to Organic (from strictly organic to split operation with caged hens);
  • Outdoor Access (based on square foot of open space, ease of access to outdoor openings, and opportunity to access outdoors);
  • Outdoor Management (rotation of outdoor space, type and amount of outdoor vegetation);
  • Indoor Quality of Life (square feet per bird, availability of perches, natural light);
  • Organic Principles (farm interdependence and ecological sustainability criteria).


(photos from the Cornucopia photo gallery; see Links, below)

All Organic egg producers/labels were scored based on the criteria, for a maximum of 2200 points, then ranked from 1 egg (low) to 5 egg (high). The criteria for each level of ranking are as follows: (You can view all brands on the Cornucopia site: Organic Egg Scorecard)

The ratings are explained as follows:

5-Egg producer: Vital Farms Coop, Austin TX

“5-egg” rating (2001-2200): “Exemplary”—Beyond Organic

29 producers were given this rating, including Mission Mountain Organic Eggs in Ronan MT.

“Producers in this top tier manage diverse, small- to medium-scale family farms. They raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in fixed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture. They sell eggs locally or re-gionally under their farm’s brand name, mostly through farmer’s markets, food cooperatives and/or independently owned natural and grocery stores and sometimes through larger chains like Whole Foods.”

“4-egg” rating (1801-2000): “Excellent”—Organic Promoting Outdoor Access

5 producers were given this rating.

“Producers in this category provide ample outdoor space and make an effort to encourage their birds to go outside. They provide an excellent outdoor environment, often either rotated pasture or well-managed outdoor runs, with an adequate number of popholes/doors for the chickens to reach the outdoors.”

“3-egg” rating (1501-1800): “Very Good”—Organic, Complying with Minimum USDA Standards

9 producers were given this rating, including Organic Valley brand (see Organic Egg Scorecard, last page for more detail about Organic Valley).

“Brands with a three-egg rating are very good choices. Eggs from brands in this category either come from family-scale farms that provide outdoor runs for their chickens, or from larger-scale farms where meaningful outdoor space is either currently granted or under construction. All producers in this category appear committed to meeting organic standards for minimum outdoor space for laying hens.”

“2-egg” rating (1201-1500): “Fair” —Some Questions Remain Concerning Compliance with Federal Standards

2 producers were given this rating.

“These are either industrial-scale operations or others with outstanding questions or concerns regarding their compliance with USDA regulations. One of the primary features that distinguish these organizations from the ethically challenged brands below is their willingness to share with their customers (and Cornucopia researchers) some of the details as to how their chickens are cared for and how their eggs are actually produced

Chino Valley Aviary, Arcadia CA

“1-egg” rating (0-1200): “ethically deficient – industrial organics/no meaningful outdoor access and/or none were open enough to participate.”

17 producers were given this rating.

“Brands with a “1-egg” rating are generally produced on industrial-scale egg operations that grant no meaningful outdoor access. “Outdoor access” on these operations generally means a covered concrete porch that is barely accessible to the chickens. Means of egress from the buildings are intentionally small to discourage birds from going outside, and make it possible for only a small percentage of birds to have “access” to the outdoors. No producers in this category were willing to participate in The Cornucopia Institute’s project, and none shared their production practices with Cornucopia researchers. This is disturbing to many organic consumers, since transparency has always been viewed as a hallmark of the organic food movement.”

Private label eggs:

15 private label brands, such as Kirkland Signature (Costco), Great Value (Walmart), O Organic (Safeway), 365 Organic (Whole Foods), and Trader Joe’s, were ranked separately from other brands, and given only a 1-egg rating.

“Private-label, or store-brand, eggs rated with one egg are sold by grocers or distributors who have the obvious desire of wanting to grow their presence in the organic marketplace. Unfortunately, there is an inherent limitation in private-label organic products: organic consumers tend to want to know where their food is coming from and how it is produced, and private-label products are anonymous by their very nature. Our research indicates that the vast majority of organic eggs for private label brands are produced on industrial farms that house hundreds of thousands of birds and do not grant the birds meaningful outdoor access.”

Links on the Cornucopia Site

One Response to “Report on Organic Eggs”

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