Which Eggs Are Best For The Environment

Eggs are one of the most delicious and utilitarian food options available.  In North America, eggs provide the basis for an array of breakfast options whether it be an omelet, a breakfast sandwich, or simply served sunny side up.  Eggs are invaluable to bakers as they serve as a natural glue in many food mixtures.  Your choice of the source and type of eggs can reduce your carbon footprint.

When looking to buy a “green” egg, there are a few factors you might want to consider. First of all, are they organic eggs? Organic eggs are better for the natural environment and your body because no hormones are used on the chickens that produce the eggs, plus the feed that the chickens consume has to be 95% organic as well.

We’ve all seen the “cage-free” label on egg cartons as well, and this is oftentimes misleading. In the U.S., there are no specific regulations for putting the label on a carton other than the chickens aren’t raised in the conventional manner called “battery” cages.

However, just because they aren’t stuck in these tiny cages, doesn’t mean they are allowed to roam the countryside happily eating and basking in the sun. Many cage-free chickens are kept in a cramped barn all day and allowed limited time to graze and move around. Although some cage-free chickens spend all their days under the sun eating what they want and growing more naturally.

Knowing the producer of the egg is critical when buying cage free eggs, so you shouldn’t buy them and think you are truly being environmentally friendly because there is a high likelihood that you are paying a premium and not really helping the environment or the chickens. Caged chickens are restricted to smaller areas where the temperature is carefully regulated, so they put less energy into keeping warm and producing eggs. However, most non-organic chickens in cages are fed lots of chemically dependent corn so their carbon footprint is impacted by the production related to these commodities.

While cage-free chickens require about 18% more land than caged animals, they are also more often subject to more diverse diets. Many cage-free chickens are on more diverse farms rather than large industrial farms, and their environmental impact is thus less, but it’s difficult to quantify. For instance, if you buy cage free organic eggs from a local farmer who produces a variety of products on his farm, there is a better chance that the chicken’s environmental impact is less.  

The chicken is also probably subsisting more “naturally” on the farm, without having to dedicate any land specifically for growing the chicken’s feed, but rather the chicken is allowed to eat or graze throughout the farm as part of the natural balancing act that many local farms employ to sustain themselves.

If you are interested in more in-depth insights into eggs, Green Blizzard recommends reading Eggs by Michael Roux, a rich guide to cooking all types of eggs, or Eggs by Richard Spinelli, a quirky novel,  or Egg: Fresh Simple Recipes by Jodi Liano, a very popular selling book with 40+ recipes. The last factor you should consider when buying eggs is the packaging.  Avoid styrofoam containers since most are not recyclable.

The best option is the paper cartons that, as you might expect from their tattered and grainy appearance, are made out of recycled products themselves. In addition, try and buy local eggs when possible because you can reduce the carbon footprint of the eggs when they don’t travel far to reach you.

Eggs hauled 1,000 miles aren’t likely to taste any better than eggs from 50 miles away. So, the next time you’re looking over all your egg options at the grocery store, keep these points in mind and ask your grocer about their origin, and you can make the green egg choice that Dr. Seuss would be proud of for sure.

A few other related Green Blizzard insightful articles you should read are: Kitchen Composting Made EasyFast Food: Think of the Carbon Impact.


About the author

John R. Garnet

John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.