Thursday, November 19, 2015


The Price (and Cost) of Eggs
by Pat Hanson 
Last weekend I ran low on eggs and saw the house brand of eggs at Seamart was on sale 3 dozen for $6.00. Why then was I spending $7.00 a dozen for Organic Valley eggs for Hanson Baked Goods? It was my husband asking this rational question. His eye is often on the price as he does the accounting for my small business.

His logical question led to my doing some research into the price of eggs. But I was also concerned about the cost of those eggs in terms of the conditions for the hens that lay them. My starting point was The Cornucopia Institute at which publishes ratings for egg producers based upon organic certification. Their ratings factor in such things as: type of henhouse, access to outdoor space, space per hen, natural light, type of pasture, laying hen lifespan, beak trimming, diet, manure handling, and ownership structure of farm.

Cornucopia scores each egg producer with a possible maximum score of 2200 points. I had just placed an order through the Sitka FoodCo-op for several dozen eggs from Chino Valley. I wondered how Chino Valley rated on Cornucopia and was unpleasantly surprised that they scored a grand total of zero points as they refused to share any information regarding organic certification, ownership structure, or any other relevant information. According to Cornucopia, “Chino Valley markets organic eggs from multiple sources ranging from vertically-integrated (corporate-owned) industrial-scaled henhouses in Texas to small and medium-scale family farmers in the Midwest. The company has been active in opposing strict requirements for outdoor access for organic laying hens.”  I then read an interesting article “Is Your Favorite Organic Egg Brand a Factory Farm in Disguise?” from The article describes a discrepancy between the Chino Valley’s website which describes their hens as living “the way nature intended” and the reality of “an industrial henhouse jam-packed with 36,000 birds” which is what “investigators from the organic food advocacy group Cornucopia Institute found when they visited a Wisconsin henhouse that supplies Chino Valley Ranchers with organic eggs.” (

Since it was the last day to place an order with Food Club (UNFI) and I needed eggs, I began to search for an egg supplier with a better reputation. In my research I discovered there are nine different whole egg suppliers available through Sitka Food Co-op, all with far better records than Chino Valley. Following is a summary of each supplier and a price comparison for a dozen large brown organic eggs. Price comparisons do not include shipping and handling.  

Price Comparison of Organic Large Brown Eggs available through Sitka Food Co-op
Azure Standard
Is high, 0 is low
Total Score/2200
Minimum order
Price 1 doz. Lg Brn Org.
Product Number
Mission Mountain
5 eggs Exemplary
2 dozen
Stiebrs Farms
4 eggs
2 dozen
15 dozen

Food club (unifi)
Vital Farms
5 eggs
2 dozen
Pasture Verde**
Not rated
Not rated
15 dozen
Wilcox Family Farms
3 eggs
Very Good
15 dozen
Organic Valley
3 eggs Very good
15 dozen
Chino Valley
1 egg Ethically deficient
6 dozen
Davidson’s Safest
Not rated
Not rated
15 dozen
Rock Island (Fertile eggs)
Not rated
Not rated
15 dozen
            **Pasture Verde is a product name from Vital Farms whose website says Pasture Verde uses the same standards and same hens as Vital Farms.

So as a short term solution I ordered 7 dozen eggs from Organic Valley and will order from Mission Mountain next month when I place my Azure Standards order.

The quality issue that I next explored got quite confusing. There are multiple adjectives attached to eggs and hens. I was helped in my search by an article titled “How virtuous are your eggs?” posted by biteclub. The url is Here is a very brief  summary of the article:
1.     Organic means laying hens must be fed an all-organic diet, have outdoor access and be cage-free. Outdoor access can be misleading as it can include one tiny opening to a tiny weed infested yard for hundreds of hens.
2.     Cage-Free means hens are allowed to move freely and are not confined to cages; however this also means that thousands of hens can be jammed into spaces with no access to the outdoors.
3.     Free-range, pasture-raised means hens are allowed to roam freely outdoors during the day.
4.     No-kill refers to a policy by producers letting non-producing hens to live out their natural lives.
5.     Egg color indicates different breeds but may have no bearing on nutritional value.
6.     Vegetarian diet means hens are not fed animal by-products but hens do not eat a vegetarian diet naturally in the wild. Pasture raised hens do not eat a vegetarian diet.
7.     Antibiotic-free does not mean much as most producers do not use antibiotics. Lack of the need for antibiotics can indicate a well-cared for,  healthy flock.
8.     Fertile indicates roosters are kept with the hens and their eggs are thus considered fertile. Often means cage-free birds.
9.     Humane, Animal Welfare, United Egg Producer Certified (UEPC) are terms used to indicate audited living conditions of hens. They are largely meaningless as those producers certified by Animal Welfare do not sell to supermarkets and American Humane Certified allows for cage confinement. UEPC allows battery cages and beak-trimming.
10.  Omega-3 Enriched means hens are fed flax seed, algae or fish oil in their feed which does not affect their treatment or organic-status.

The following graphic highlights even more issues about the cost of eggs for hens including 81/2” by 11” cages, lack of access to the outdoors and thus the ability to engage in “normal behaviors,” starving hens periodically to force molting and thus increase egg production. So I will continue to be aware of the ratings of egg producers. And I will have an answer for my husband to explain why I do spend so much on eggs. This will be easier to justify when I order a sufficient quantity from Azure Standard and thus don’t have to get second rate eggs for first rate prices.  

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