Sunday, September 19, 2010

What are Vegetarian Eggs and Hormone-Free Beef?

My family is one of many farm families producing quality food for your family to enjoy
A visit to the grocery store today is a different experience than it was five years ago. Then, people read the back of a package to determine the product ingredients. Today, people read the front of the package to learn about the product’s attributes. Today, consumers want to know more information about the food they are purchasing. As a result, marketers of food products make very attractive claims on the front of packages to entice you to pick their product from the shelf.

Product labels on meat, eggs and dairy usually include management practices used to produce that product. It’s important to know that many of these practices have no impact on the actual end product. However, it gives the perception that the product is different or superior to its non-labeled counterpart.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I found the following labels on products in the egg, dairy and meat cases: All Natural, Farm Fresh, Organic, Cage-free, Free-range, Grass Fed, Pasteurized, Kosher, Antibiotic free, Hormone Free, Vegetarian, Vegetarian fed hens, No gluten, No Steroids added, Nothing added, No artificial growth hormones, No added growth hormone, Produced without cloning, No pesticides.

As a producer and consumer, I found myself chuckling in the grocery aisle. I was surprised at the creative labeling such as “vegetarian fed hens”. I never thought of chickens or cows or hogs as vegetarians, but I guess they are so why not slap that on the package.  Another one that always puzzles me is “hormone free” on meat and milk – don’t all animal products naturally contain hormones?  

Food labels can be misleading. For example, if I’m comparing eggs and one carton claims “all natural, pasteurized, antibiotic free, hormone free” and the carton next to it doesn’t contain any labels at all, should I assume the eggs in the non-labeled carton are not natural, not pasteurized and are full of antibiotics and hormones? 

Are the eggs inside these two cartons different? Is one safer for me and my family to eat?  To add to the confusion there is a huge price difference between the two products; the one with all the labels is $3.79 and the one with no labels is $1.49.  The more expensive one must be better – right? Actually, I would pick the $1.49 eggs and feel confident that I purchased a quality product at a good value. I know that labels don’t equal quality, often times they are marketing tactics used to charge more for the same product. 

The bottom line - we in agriculture produce nutritious, safe, quality products for you and your family to enjoy. Agriculture management practices will vary depending on the unique situation of each farm. Just as consumers have choices regarding which products to purchase, farmers have choices about which management practices work best for their operation. 

It’s good to have choices, but remember the most expensive product with the most enticing labels isn’t always better, safer or even different than its non-labeled, less expensive counterpart. 


  1. Here, here!!! Great post! It's ridiculous how misleading the packaging can be!!!

  2. Well, yes you can assume that the pasteurized eggs are safer. That's what pasteurized means. Only one brand of eggs is pasteurized; the others are not. It's a process overseen by the FDA, so it belongs on the package.

    Hens, like other animals, need fat in their diet in order to absorb other nutrients. Many times, farmers use pork fat to supplement the hens' feed. It's cheap. It's more expensive to use vegetable oils. Some people prefer that, some don't. You make the choice.

  3. I guess that people would think that if the eggs are pasteurized something 'unnatural' happened to them. Like maybe they're irradiated. But from what I can tell, the pasteurized ones are done with water so the process is 'natural'. You know, most people don't even know what pasteurized means! They think it means that the chickens were raised in a pasture. Ha ha.

    You know how freaked out people get about their food.

  4. Management practices do make a difference in both the product and the impact the farmer makes on the environment when producing that product.

    Undoubtedly you are aware of the research on the impact of feeding sub-theraputic doses of antibiotics to animals in their feed or implanting or feeding hormones to cattle; if you choose to do that, own up to it.

    That will enable the consumer to make an educated decision about how to spend their food dollars.


Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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