Egg Standards

At Natural Grocers, all the eggs we sell are 100% free range

We are dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of farm animals. How we treat the animals that provide us with nourishment reflects our values. We are proud to say that in our 60 years plus of being in business, we have never sold eggs from caged hens.

Raising standards while keeping our prices affordable has always been our commitment, that's why we continuously do the research and work with our farmers and animal welfare experts. 

In 2016, while the other guys were pledging to go cage free, we opened the barn doors

We think that hens should be free, free from cages, free from antibiotics, free to roam, free to perch and stretch their wings, free to go outside and do the things that chickens love to do. By providing them with the space, both inside and out, that they need, they are healthier, studies indicate their eggs are more nutritious1,2 and contain fewer problematic bacteria/don't contain salmonella,3 and we think that this way of raising our food makes the world a better place — kinder, healthier and happier.  

After consulting with farmers and animal welfare experts, we changed our minimum standard for eggs (shelled eggs, egg white liquids and hard-boiled eggs) from cage free to free range and our farmer partners were up to the challenge. Many of the brands on our shelves were already free range, and some were pasture-based. Those that were only cage-free we helped transition to meet our new minimum standard. We're happy to say that now all the barn doors are open.  

In 2017, we won the prestigious Good Egg Award from the world's leading farm animal welfare organization, Compassion in World Farming, for our eggceptional egg quality standards.   

Free Range the Natural Grocers way 

Our minimum standard for all our eggs is free range. It is important to understand that not all eggs labeled as free range meet our standards.  

To meet our Free-Range Egg Standard the hens are never caged, they must spend time outside and not just have “access” to the outdoors. And, they really and truly must spend time outside, not “outside” on a screened in concrete or dirt porch, but outside on living range land with dirt and grass, bushes and trees, with bugs to hunt and dust to bathe in and with enough space to live as close to their natural inclinations as possible.  

Their indoor space must be roomy enough and enriched so that they can thrive in an environment that encourages chicken-like behaviors: nesting, dust bathing, perching, preening, and socializing. They are never given antibiotics or ionospheres. Their diet may not contain mammalian or avian by-products. And humane animal husbandry practices are a must. (See our Natural Grocers Egg Quality Ranking System and chart below for more details.)   

Natural Grocers Brand Eggs, The Most Eggcellent Eggs Come from the Most Eggcellent Farmers 

Putting our name on something means a lot. We are known for our commitment to food quality and affordable pricing, so when it came to finding an egg supplier for our brand we had to team up with the absolute best (the most eggcellent farms around). There are a couple of big agribusiness egg suppliers out there that most of the other grocery stores, natural food stores and farmers' markets use, but we had some concerns about them,4,5 so, we flew on by. 

We wanted to support US family farms that are committed to the highest levels of animal welfare. So, we decided to partner with Egg Innovations. By doing so we ensured that Natural Grocers Brand of Pasture-Based eggs is exclusively produced for us on US family farms throughout the Midwest. All of them are certified to Humane Farm Animal Care's highest standards in Animal Welfare. As Egg Innovations puts it: "We're proud to be HUMANE BEINGS. We pledge to put the welfare of our chickens, people and planet first in every decision we make, every action we take."  

We wanted to make sure that the hens that produce our eggs would receive only the best feed and care. Egg Innovations operates a dedicated mill just for their family farms, so they can ensure non-GMO and/or certified organic feed that is based on what is best for the hens’ health and includes essential nutrients. They work diligently with their family farms to train them, support them and help guide them across any challenges the farms may encounter. They also ensure the birds are outside, roaming free on green pastures, dust bathing and hunting for bugs in the grass — it really is the happy picture you would hope to see when visiting a farm. We know because we’ve been to the family farms that produce our eggs and seen it for ourselves. More information about Egg Innovations can be found by pecking on this link: https://www.egginnovations.com/  

Why an Egg Quality Ranking System?  

While we find reading about animal husbandry practices and getting knee-deep in agricultural jargon exciting, we understand that you don’t always have time to decipher what different labels mean in terms of animal welfare, environmental impact, nutrient content, farmer health and prosperity, care-taker training, etc. — all those things that impact food quality and animal health and wellbeing.  

To make it easier on you, we created our Natural Grocers Egg Quality Ranking System that clearly explains how the product you are buying was produced. This way, you can be assured that what you think you are actually getting in terms of food quality and animal welfare standards matches what you are buying. Additionally, we visit and inspect farms that are not inspected and certified by a third party to ensure they are meeting our standards.  

The best news about our free-range egg standards is that even our minimum standard is wings above the rest — better for the animals, better for you, and better for the environment!  

Battery cages are not alright, they are cruel and depressing, and should never have become the norm  

We are glad that the other guys will be catching up to our old minimum standard (cage-free) sometime in the 2020’s because we sincerely believe that the hens that produce our eggs, provide us with nourishment, deserve better than to be crammed into battery cages without enough room to turn around or extend their wings. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “Caged-laying hens are among the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness.” Additionally, they point out, "Caged hens suffer from the denial of many natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing, all important for hen welfare."  

Studies indicate that the industrialization of egg production has led to a salmonella pandemic  

According to Dr. Robert Tauxe, the deputy director of the CDC′s Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, foodborne salmonella infections “became important public health concerns in parallel with the modern intensification of animal rearing...in the 1950s and 1960s in North America,”6 which is when the US egg industry began embracing cage systems. In the 1940s, salmonella was only implicated in sickening a few hundred Americans a year.7 Before the industrial intensification of egg production, Salmonella Enteritidis was not even found in eggs in the United States.8 By the beginning of the 21st century, however, Salmonella Enteritidis-contaminated eggs were sickening an estimated 182,000 Americans annually.9   

The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine states that “the introduction of feedlots and large-scale poultry rearing, and processing facilities has been implicated in the increasing incidence of human pathogens, such as salmonella, in domestic animals over the past 30 years.”10

There are many industrial practices that have contributed to the emergence of the egg-borne salmonella threat. For example, the egg industry’s eradication of Salmonella gallinarum, a serotype that primarily affects birds but not humans, may have created the ecological niche necessary for the emergence of Salmonella enteritidis, which poses little threat to birds (and hence industry profits) but sickens more than 100,000 Americans every year.11  

Other factors specific to industrial egg production that have contributed to egg-borne salmonella are overcrowding, the industry’s selective breeding practices, the feeding of slaughterhouse waste to hens, and forced starvation molting.3

Eating eggs from caged birds have been specifically tied to human illness. In a 2002 prospective case-control study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, people who recently ate eggs from caged hens had about twice the odds of being sickened by salmonella compared to people who did not eat eggs from hens kept in cages. Those eating cage-free eggs were not at significantly elevated risk.8

According to research done by the Humane Society International: "The best available science suggests that confining hens in cages means increased salmonella infection risk in the birds, their eggs, and the consumers of caged eggs."3

Will industrial production of cage-free eggs be all that they are cracked up to be?  

For the welfare of the nation’s egg-producing hens, we applaud those who are pledging to go cage-free, even if it is going to take them into the 2020s to get there.  

But we are concerned about what this will really mean for hen welfare and egg quality. These new cage-free facilities could turn into little more than floor-to-ceiling enclosures — essentially just a larger cage — that may allow hens a little bit more movement, but cram hundreds of thousands of them into a single barn, with poor air quality and insufficient space to exhibit their natural behaviors. Additionally, they will likely never see the sun or feel a breeze across their feathers. 

We don’t think this is what consumers really have in mind when they reach for that carton of cage-free eggs.  

Natural Grocers Egg Quality Ranking Overview  

BRONZE: Free-Range

The chickens are provided with sufficient space to move — both indoors and out— and an environment that encourages natural behaviors. Of course, use of antibiotics, ionophores, hormones or other growth promoters are prohibited, as are land-animal by-products in their feed. 

Even though this is our minimum standard, you will find that it is one of the highest-quality products that can be bought at any grocery or health food store because our minimum standard is so high.  

SILVER: Free-Range Plus

Everything in Bronze, plus enhanced outdoor space. This means that the hens are provided with more outdoor space to move and groove in and/or there is a required minimum number of hours with the freedom to go outside every day, so they can get their chicken on. Also, their feed must not contain ingredients that come from genetically modified (bioengineered) organisms (GMOs).  

GOLD: Pasture-Based & Organic

Everything in Bronze and Silver, plus the farms must be certified organic and the hens must be out on organic pasture, with a minimum of 108 square feet per hen, with the freedom to go in and out of provided shelter all day as needed. Organic means no GMOs, synthetic pesticides or herbicides in their feed.  

Natural Grocers Egg Quality Ranking Chart  

Requirements Bronze Silver Gold
No Sub-therapeutic Antibiotics  Y Y Y
Never Given Hormones Y Y Y
Never Fed Ionophores Y Y Y
No Growth Promoters Y Y Y
No Cages Y Y Y
No Land Animal By-Products in Feed  Y Y Y
No Cloned Animals  Y Y Y
Humane Animal Husbandry Requirements Y Y Y
Nests and Perches for Hens to Roost at Night  Y Y Y
No Screened in porches as outside space  Y Y Y
Minimum of 2 Square Feet Outdoor Space Per Hen* Y Y
Adequate Indoor Space For Natural Behavior Y Y Y
Enriched Spaces to Support and Encourage Natural Behaviors  Y Y Y
No Antibiotics**

Y

Y
Non-GMO or Certified Organic Feed    Y Y
Enhanced Outdoor Space***    Y Y
Pasture-Based****      Y
Regenerative or Sustainable Agricultural Practice       Y
Certified Organic     Y

*When 100% of the Hens are Outside. Silver equates to more space (20 square feet per hen) and/or more time outside. Gold equates to a minimum of 108 square feet per hen. 

** Bronze: No antibiotics if organic. If not organic - antibiotics are hardly ever used, and, if used, they consult with their vet and adhere to withdrawal times. Silver: No antibiotics if organic. If not organic, antibiotics are hardly ever used, and, if used, they consult with their vet and adhere to withdrawal times. 

*** Either more outdoor space to move and groove in and/or a required number of hours with the freedom to go outside every day, so they can get their chicken on. 

****A minimum of 108 square feet per hen and with the freedom to go in and out of provided shelter all day as needed. 

References

1. Karsten, H., Patterson, P., Stout, R., & Crews, G. (2010, January 12). Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens | Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-… 

2. Research shows eggs from pastured chickens may be more nutritious. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://news.psu.edu/story/166143/2010/07/20/research-shows-eggs-pastur… 

3. http://www.hsi.org/assets/pdfs/hsi-fa-white-papers/food_safety_risks_of… 

4. https://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/news/2017/04/18/investigation-finds… 5

5. Organic Consumers Association and Handsome Brook Farm Announce Settlement of Legal Actions Concerning Pasture-Raised Eggs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.organicconsumers.org/press/organic-consumers-association-an… 

6. Tauxe RV. 1999. Salmonella Enteritidis: the continuing global public health challenge. In: Saeed AM, Gast RK, Potter ME, and Wall PG (eds.), Salmonella enterica Serovar Enteritidis in Humans and Animals: Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, and Control (Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, pp. xi-xiii). 

7. Morse EV and Duncan MA. 1974. Salmonellosis—an environmental health problem. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 165(11):1015-9. 

8. Rabsch W, Tschäpe H, and Bäumler AJ. 2001. Non-typhoidal salmonellosis: emerging problems. Microbes and Infection 3(3):237-47.  

9. Schroeder CM, Naugle AL, Schlosser WD, et al. 2005. Estimate of illnesses from Salmonella Enteritidis in eggs, United States, 2000. Emerging Infectious Diseases 11(1):113-5. 

10. Lederberg J, Shope RE, and Oaks SC. 1992. Emerging Infections: Microbial Threats to Health in the United States (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, p. 64). 

11. Bäumler AJ, Hargis BM, and Tsolis RM. 2000. Tracing the origins of Salmonella outbreaks. Science 287(5450):50-2. 

12. Schroeder CM, Naugle AL, Schlosser WD, et al. 2005. Estimate of illnesses from Salmonella Enteritidis in eggs, United States, 2000. Emerging Infectious Diseases 11(1):113-5. 

13. Mølbak K and Neimann J. 2002. Risk factors for sporadic infection with Salmonella Enteritidis, Denmark, 1997-1999. American Journal of Epidemiology 156(7):654-61.