Cage eggs are still very popular in the USA – by a whopping margin of more than 40 to one over eggs from cage-free systems.
Information published on The Land using data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI) revealed 92% of all eggs purchased in US retail stores in 2009 were from cage operations. Only 2% were from cage-free operations and only 1% were from free-range/organic operations.
I was a little surprised by the figures given all the negative press about eggs from cage system hens until I found out why cage eggs were still such a favorite – pricing. The gap between cage egg, “barn laid” and free range prices is incredible. While barn/free range/organic are more expensive to produce, perhaps cage-egg production in the USA also receives greater subsidies? Or is it just economy of scale factors? I really don’t know.
The average cost recently for a dozen large eggs from cage system hens was a measly $1.10, while barn laid eggs cost almost triple that at $2.99 a dozen. Free-range/organic eggs cost almost four times more at $4.38 a dozen.
$1.10 for a dozen eggs? No wonder people opt for cage eggs – that price is really hard to resist; particularly for families on a tight budget.
In other parts of the world, eggs are nowhere near that cheap – even cage-eggs and the pricing gap isn’t comparable to other countries.
Here in Australia we have a huge egg industry and while I haven’t been taking particular note of egg prices in recent months, late last year a dozen cage eggs cost the equivalent of around USD$2.50; free range eggs around USD$4.00 and barn laid eggs somewhere in the middle of the two. The pricing gap between cage eggs to barn laid and free range here isn’t so huge; making non-cage options more attractive.
Still, around 79% of eggs sold in Australian supermarkets continue to come from intensive cage systems, but that figure is steadily dropping. 15% of eggs sold here are free range and 6% barn laid.
Cage egg production has come under the spotlight quite often in recent years due to reports of cruelty to the birds and environmental issues. While barn laid eggs can be a much better arrangement; it’s probably not what most people envision – for example, sometimes the birds can still be crammed into the barns. Even free range egg choices can be a bit of a minefield to navigate, depending on the country and regulations in relation to the use of the term “free range” and “organic”.
I recently bought some truly free range eggs (store owner’s chooks) and the difference in color and taste was incredible. If you’re still buying cage eggs and your budget isn’t too stretched, consider give free range a go as you may find you won’t want to go back to cage hen eggs afterwards.
The best free range eggs are usually straight from the farmer (so you can see how the hens are kept) or your local farmer’s market. The more people buy non-cage eggs, the cheaper those options will become.
Perhaps also consider keeping hens in your yard if permitted – not only will you have a super-fresh supply of eggs; chickens can provide you with a very effective and environmentally friendly weed and insect control solution – and some great natural fertilizer!
However, keeping hens is not a decision to take lightly as there is a bit of work involved and issues to be aware of; so do some research first – learn more about keeping backyard chickens.