Organic Consumers Association

Tell These Retailers: Stop Selling 'Organic' Eggs that Actually Come from Factory Farms!

People buy organic eggs for a number of reasons, including not wanting to support factory farms that mistreat chickens, pollute the environment and produce eggs that are nutritionally inferior.

You already know that. But here’s something you may not know. Most retail grocery chains that sell "organic" eggs under their own label (think Aldi’s Simply Nature, Whole Foods 365 Organic, Trader Joe’s, Kroger Simple Truth, Costco, etc.) get their eggs from huge factory farm-type operations that routinely violate USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules.

TAKE ACTION: Tell These Retailers: Stop Selling 'Organic' Eggs that Actually Come from Factory Farms! Fill in the form on this page to send your message.

According to the Cornucopia Institute, nearly all store-brand "organic" eggs come from just a few enormous egg companies that supply both conventional and so-called "organic" eggs. Those companies are: Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Farms and Herbruck’s.

These are some of the biggest and worst factory farm egg producers in the U.S. The horrors of their caged-hen operations are reason enough to boycott everything they sell, but especially anything they are passing off as “organic.”

These companies’ "organic" operations are nothing more than industrial-scale production facilities that violate USDA organic standards by failing to provide their hens with meaningful access to the outdoors, much less real pasture. How can that be?

In theory, USDA standards for organic eggs dictate that hens should have access to the outdoors. But as this 2015 report by the Cornucopia Institute explains, those standards are unclear and thus open to interpretation. Moreover, the standards are also largely unenforced. According to the report (p. 39):

Not a single industrial-scale egg producer has come under investigation by the USDA for violating the standards; on the contrary, industrial-scale producers apparently felt shielded from legal action soon after the organic standards went into effect in 2002.

Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Farms and Herbruck’s are shameless when it comes to violating organic standards. When the USDA proposed new rules this year to bolster the pre-existing requirement that all organic birds have access to the outdoors, these industrial-scale organic imposters submitted joint comments arguing that organic birds shouldn’t go outside at all!

Yet according to the Cornucopia Institute, whose report details the history of consolidation in the organic egg production industry, these are the companies that supply most of the "organic" eggs sold under store brand names.

Real organic vs. factory farm ‘organic’—what’s the difference?

Depending on where you buy your organic eggs, you’ve probably noticed some differences, especially in the yokes. Some organic eggs have a deep red-orange yoke. In others, the yokes are pale yellow.

What you’re seeing is the difference in the lives of the hens that laid the eggs. That deep red-orange yoke can only be produced by hens who spend more time outdoors foraging on pastures than they do confined inside. Pale yellow yokes come from hens confined in huge warehouses, and who rarely (probably never) feast on a natural diet of insects and seeds.

For the consumer, the difference between true organic and factory farm "organic" eggs, means a difference in nutritional value. The deeper the color of the yoke, the higher the levels of Vitamin A, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and beta carotene, according to studies.

Better nutrition isn’t the only benefit. Organic eggs produced by ethical farms where hens have real access to pasture, including organic regenerative poultry systems, have far less impact on the environment than those that come from factory farm-type egg operations that pollute with impunity.

From an animal welfare perspective? No contest. According to Farm Sanctuary, chickens used to produce eggs are among the most abused of all farm animals. That’s true for the hens producing "organic" eggs if those hens are warehoused with hundreds of thousands of other birds.

What should consumers look for?

The Cornucopia Institute recently updated its organic egg scorecard to help consumers support the farmers raising their hens on pasture and boycott the corporate agribusinesses that don’t let their hens outdoors. (Note: The Cornucopia scorecard is very useful, but we have one quibble. Natural Grocers should get a much higher rating than the "one egg" Cornucopia gives its store brand organic eggs. In December 2015, the Colorado-based grocer started selling Natural Grocers branded eggs that are certified organic and pasture-raised according to Certified Humane standards which require that the eggs come from hens that have a minimum of 108 square feet of outdoor space per bird).

Thanks to the Cornucopia Institute, we now know to avoid "ethically deficient" store-brand "organic" eggs, at least until we convince retail grocery chains to stop sourcing their eggs from factory farm-like producers. And we know which brands to support.

You can also look for alternatives to store-brand "organic" eggs by connecting with farmers though FarmMatch.com, LocalHarvest.com or EatWild.com.

It’s no secret why stores like Whole Foods and Aldi buy their eggs from the bad guys—price. The only way to convince stores to buy ethically produced organic eggs is to stop buying their brands until they switch to producers that follow USDA organic standards and produce eggs from chickens that have meaningful access to real pastures.

TAKE ACTION: Tell These Retailers: Stop Selling 'Organic' Eggs that Actually Come from Factory Farms!