Whole eggs have been getting some bad press for quite awhile now, basically due to their content of dietary fat and cholesterol and the link between these substances and heart disease. Health conscious individuals are being told to eat eggs sparingly, make use of the egg whites only or use the prepared egg white formulas found in supermarkets. Eggs found in pet foods are being used as cheaper sources of protein, when compared to meat, with apparent little regard for their abundant, natural, nutrient content.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the concerns are all misplaced, just misunderstood. The real discussion should not lie with the health value of eggs in general, but instead with how the hens are raised from which the eggs come! I have found that with most discussion and scientific study the focus is placed on one thing and all other parameters are ignored. It is no different with eggs, yet all eggs are not alike. There are conventionally produced eggs obtained from chickens raised in various enclosed conditions and there are eggs obtained from chickens that are raised freely (or in movable coops for their safety) on pastures.
Eggs produced conventionally, like those found in most supermarkets and pet foods, are obtained from egg-laying hens using intensive farming techniques. For these chickens, this typically consists of a life forced to live crammed together inside small barren wire cages called battery cages. These cages are commonly stacked in rows inside windowless sheds, in conditions that can be considered cruel, and are typically rife with disease. In an effort to be able to use the term “free-range” on their cartons, modern farming techniques may also include cage-free movement in over-crowded sheds. You can visit this link if you would like to read more about the life of a chicken in the commercial egg industry.
For our discussion, we are going to focus on what this type of rearing does to the nutrition of an egg. Chickens raised conventionally are fed a diet designed for hens raised in confinement that includes grain products, plant protein products, processed grain byproducts, roughage products, forage products and a range of synthetic vitamins. This diet is generally comprised of an inexpensive mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, but you can see from the description that “products” could stand for just about anything. Designed to accomplish obtaining eggs as inexpensively as possible, this diet does just that, but at the expense of nutrition.
Outdoor Pasture Raised Eggs
Eggs obtained from chickens raised outdoors are very different. There are obvious differences in quality of life for chickens raised conventionally when compared to their counterparts raised outdoors with access to fresh air and sunshine, and room to move around, flap their wings and get exercise, but the differences in the quality of their diets is just as striking. Chickens raised outdoors enjoy access to a natural diet consisting of all kinds of seeds, green plants, insects and worms. These natural foods have a tremendous effect on the nutritional content of the eggs they lay.
Because egg allergies can be a concern for some animals, pet parents may have some anxiety about including eggs in their diet. However, we have found, through different techniques such as nutritional testing, that while animals typically test poorly for any pet foods with conventionally raised eggs, the same is not true for pasture raised eggs. Studies support our findings by showing that many sensitivities dramatically improve with a natural diet. I think this is why we find that animals do not do as well fed eggs from conventionally raised hens, due to their poor quality diet that features low-quality grains with synthetic additives, as opposed to eggs from hens raised on a natural diet, which does not include grains or additives (or very few). Pasteurization also plays a role in allergies, while simultaneously damaging the nutrient profile of the raw food product, and is another reason why we like to focus on whole, raw foods for our animals. However, the product has to come from a healthy, disease-free environment (see Egg Recall, Salmonella and Pet Food section below).
Egg Nutritional Differences
Even though the conventional egg industry would have you believe that “The nutrient content of eggs is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or cage operations”, decades of research is showing this is just not the case. There are glaring differences in the nutritional content between conventionally raised eggs and those obtained from outdoor pasture raised hens. Studies going back 30 or more years support a 2007 egg testing project performed by Mother Earth News that found when compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, those obtained from hens raised on pasture contained:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
In addition, pasture raised eggs are higher in lutein and zeaxanthin, wonderful antioxidants found in egg yolks that contribute to eye health, and typically have higher levels of folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Many new studies are now showing that animal fats and cholesterol are not the cause of heart disease. So, not only are eggs not bad, they are really good for you and your animals. You just have to make sure of where the egg comes from, because that is where the difference resides.
The view of the American Egg Board as indicated on their website is that “True free-range eggs are those produced by hens raised outdoors or that have daily access to the outdoors.” This stance allows them to label their eggs as “free-range” just by opening the doors on the factory farm sheds regardless if there is just bare dirt or concrete outside. In addition, hens may never learn to venture outside, instead preferring to stay “safely” inside near their food, water and nests. Though the conventional egg industry is trying to redefine the term “free-range” in what many consider to be an attempt to confuse consumers, true free-range eggs are those that come from hens that are raised outdoors on pasture. To learn more, visit here to discern How to decode an egg carton. Sadly, from my research, it seems the only place true pasture raised eggs can be obtained is from a local farmer or perhaps your local health food store.
Egg Recall, Salmonella and Pet Food
On August 20, 2010 the FDA issued a recall of contaminated eggs due to the presence of Salmonella Enteritidis that sickened hundreds of people across the country.
I feel that the spread of this disease can be contributed to the factory farm conditions in which conventionally raised chickens are typically kept. Lack of sunlight, cramped living conditions, “forced molting” techniques used to stress the hens’ bodies into another egg-laying cycle, substandard feed and emotional suffering can combine to weaken an animal making them more susceptible to illness and more likely to distribute disease.
You might be wondering where these tainted eggs wind up? The eggs will be sent to processing plants to be pasteurized and returned to the food chain to be used in pet food and other products. We have always tried to educate the public about what goes into the commercial brands of pet foods owned by large corporations and found on the shelves of supermarkets and big box stores, and here we have another example, contaminated eggs, a waste product of the human food industry, being used in our pets’ food.
In conclusion, I would like everyone to come away with at least two things after reading this article. The first is that foods raised naturally in healthy, humane conditions and still in their raw, unprocessed form are going to be more nutritious and healthier for you and your pets. Second, large corporations and their accompanying organizations, with their huge annual advertising budgets, are going to try to convince you otherwise.
References Mother Earth News; Meet Real Free-Range Eggs; http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx; 11/15/2010
Choose Veg.com; The Rotten Egg Industry; http://www.chooseveg.com/eggs.asp; 11/15/2010
FDA; Urgent Nationwide Egg Recall; http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm223248.htm; 11/16/2010
Msnbc.com; Eggs from suspect farms will be processed, sold; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38851155/ns/health-food_safety; 11/16/2010
Farm Fresh Direct 2U; Allergies and Your Diet: http://farmfreshdirect2u.com/tag/free-range/; 11/16/2010
Mother Earth News; Meet Real Free-Range Eggs; http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx; 11/15/2010