The choice is yours! A guide to buying eggs

Oh how times have changed! There used to be regular white eggs and maybe a few brown ones at the grocery store. Standing in front of the egg case today, one might well be in awe of the variety available.

We’re fortunate to have such a selection of eggs to choose from in Canada. And to know every choice is a great one!

Let’s consider the variety of eggs you might find:

Regular white or brown eggs Regular white or brown eggs come from hens that are housed in small group settings with plenty of access to food and water. Hens are fed a diet of grains, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.
Enriched or furnished eggs Furnished or enriched eggs come from hens that are housed in small group settings with amenities such as perches and a curtained off area where hens lay their eggs. Hens are fed a diet of grains, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin-enhanced eggs Vitamin-enhanced eggs have more of a certain nutrient (e.g. vitamin D and Omega-3). Hens are fed a nutritionally-enhanced diet containing higher levels of certain nutrients that make their way from the diet of the hen into the egg.
Eggs from hens fed a vegetarian diet These eggs are from hens that are fed a diet containing only ingredients of plant origin. This is a special case as hens are omnivores.
Free run eggs Free run eggs come from hens that roam the entire barn floor. Some of these barns may be equipped with multi-tiered aviaries. Hens are feed a diet of grains, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals, and they forage on the barn floor.
Free range eggs Free range eggs come from hens that roam the barn floor and when weather permits, go outside to pasture. Outdoor access is only seasonally available in Canada.
Organic eggs Organic eggs come from hens raised in a free range system with access to the outdoors. Hens are fed a certified organic feed.
Processed eggs Processed eggs are shell eggs broken by special machines and pasteurized. They are further processed and packaged in liquid, frozen or dried form.

Which types of eggs are most common?

Most eggs produced in Canada are regular white and brown Canada Grade A eggs laid by hens in conventional production systems. This has been the preferred housing choice of many farmers for a long time; the health of the hens can be efficiently monitored and manure is kept separated from the eggs providing food safety benefits.

These days, as a result of years of research and an industry-wide transition toward alternative production systems, many egg farmers are installing enriched housing (also known as furnished housing) on their farm.

This system provides all the benefits afforded by conventional production and additional features which allow hens to exhibit specific behaviours that may include perching, scratching, foraging, dust bathing and nesting.

What do different production systems mean for hens, farmers and consumers?

There are trade-offs for the different production systems described above. Each might impact costs of production, price of the eggs, welfare of the hens, energy costs, human health and the environment in a different way.

The trade-offs between each production method were further assessed by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply’s four-year study that looked at the sustainability of three different types of hen housing (conventional, aviary and enriched).

The study illustrates the complexity involved in evaluating different production methods. For example, it showed that while one production type might have a higher impact on hen welfare, it also has impacts in terms of human health, the environment and the economy of the sector that must be considered.

What matters most to egg farmers?

Egg farmers and their families take great pride in providing a range of choice to consumers. They work persistently to ensure their eggs are produced according to some of the highest on-farm standards in the world.

The result is that our eggs, no matter which type you prefer, are among the best in the world in terms of quality and freshness. And they taste delicious too!

Wendi Hiebert is a Professional Home Economist and food writer, and a long-time egg lover. She is especially fond of devilled eggs, poached eggs, egg salad sandwiches, frittatas, pickled eggs….