When purchasing eggs, consumers are likely to see a wide range of labels such as cage free, pasture raised, hormone free, antibiotic free or humanely raised. The variety of options can cause uncertainty as to what they really mean.
In an article covering how to decode egg labels in the grocery store, Casey Ritz and Prafulla Regmi, University of Georgia poultry science professors, explain some of the labelling misconceptions a consumer might see.
“Welfare-related labels on eggs or meat are confusing, or in some cases outright misleading. Claims such as ‘humanely raised’ do not provide any information on how birds are reared because there are no standard metrics to define what ‘humanely raised’ means,” Regmi said.
While many egg producers follow standards and utilize labelling set by recognized commodity councils such as the United Egg Producers or the National Chicken Council, other labelling certifications come from third-party or animal welfare organizations that have created their own standards.
The point is, each set of standards can differ from organization to organization, even if the labels use similar verbiage. Additionally, marketing ploys are used on some egg labels to encourage sales through creating a false perception for the consumer.
Additionally, consumers can become uncertain when products state there are no added hormones or antibiotics. Obviously, hormone usage is illegal in poultry and eggs, and antibiotic withdrawal regulations are in place, negating the marketing ploy.
“Exogenous growth hormones are not used in poultry industry at all because there is no need. We have birds that naturally produce the intended amounts of eggs and meat based on genetic potential and what nutrition and environment we give them,” said Regmi.
“Some of these labels are meant to drive profit by tapping into consumers’ perceptions and driving demand, but perception does not necessarily mean you have informed knowledge,” Regmi stated.
The industry needs to find a better way to communicate why certain labeling is just a marketing strategy. It would be easier if all producers would get on the same page and market their products without making pointless claims. In reality, it hurts the industry as a whole when consumers are deceived into thinking half of the industry uses hormones or unnecessary antibiotics and the other half does not.