Understanding Egg-Carton Labels

Hen’s eggs have been a nutritious staple in diets worldwide for millennia, from the simple boiled egg at breakfast to the sophisticated souffle for dinner. The US egg demand has grown, with a predicted per capita consumption of 289 eggs annually in 20231. However, what does this increasing egg production mean for the welfare of laying hens?
How Is Animal Welfare in the Poultry Industry Controlled?
The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) has defined guidelines around poultry treatment, environment, and hygiene conditions. To comply, animals must be “healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress.”
Guidelines address air and water quality, disease control, behavior, injury, and waste management2. Additionally, the condition and welfare of laying hens are audited to ensure adherence.
Welfare Guidelines in the Poultry Industry
Amendments in European Union (EU) laws have made it a leader in animal welfare issues, with detailed poultry production legislation, including the phasing out of battery cages. As a result, poultry caging systems worldwide have been scrutinized, as have disease transmission rates, water, feed, and environmental quality.
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), ten states – California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington – have enacted additional poultry welfare laws since 2008, with non-compliant egg producer sales banned.
However, these changes account for just 5% of US operations3, and no USDA-stipulated regulations are in place to govern egg carton labeling. So, how can consumers ensure that their eggs align with their values, preferences, and needs?
Understanding Egg Carton Labels
Egg carton labels can include size, color, and grade references and phrases such as organic, non-GMO, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, and animal welfare certified. However, what do these terms and accreditations mean, and are they different?

  • Size and grade: Eggs are graded according to quality, with AA having the thickest whites and B the thinnest, and weight classified as Medium, Large, or Extra Large.

  • Organic: The USDA defines and regulates organic labels, so this label means National Organic Program approval. Hens are free-roaming, uncaged, and fed an organic diet free of conventional fertilizers or pesticides4.

  • Non-GMO: Hens laying these eggs eat a GMO-free diet, which is not necessarily organic.

  • Cage-Free: These hens live in large barns, providing more space and freedom than cages.

  • Free-range: Eggs produced by hens with some type of outdoor access.

  • Pasture-Raised: Layers have much space to roam, such as in pastures.

At the same time, producers sometimes add labels such as “farm-fresh,” “natural,” and ”vegetarian-fed.” These labels carry little meaning, as all eggs come from farms and omnivorous chickens and are natural. The claims also say nothing about egg quality or how hens are housed and treated.
Instead, consumers can look for third-party American Humane Certified, Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW, Food Alliance Certified, and Certified Humane Seals. These stamps promise that production meets animal welfare standards and testing. Specifications include beak trimming, outdoor roaming space, and flock density limits.
Additionally, for those wishing to reduce or cease their hen’s egg consumption for health, environmental, or animal welfare purposes, the production of plant-based “egg”-proteins is welcome news.
What Are Plant-based “Egg” Proteins?
Plant-based “eggs” use proteins from chickpeas, mung, chia, and flax seeds, spent brewer’s yeast, and microalgae, mimicking the texture and taste of hen’s eggs. Another non-animal alternative is “nature-identical” egg proteins created using precision fermentation based on molecular analysis of egg constituents. The resulting neutral-tasting proteins can produce various satisfyingly eggy plant-based “egg” products by adding high-quality pure taste and odor ingredients from Advanced Biotech.
Achieve Plant-Based “Eggcellence” With Advanced Biotech
Our range of 100% natural, plant-based, organic, and EU-certified flavor and aroma molecules includes heterocyclics, sulfurs, and pyrazines, thiazoles, and other responsibly sourced extracts. Order yours today to add egg-like sulfuriness, savoriness, and fattiness, or contact us with any questions or requests.

1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/183678/per-capita-consumption-of-eggs-in-the-us-since-2000/
2 https://egghub.org/animal-welfare
3 https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2023/april/farm-animal-welfare-policies-cover-breeding-sows-veal-calves-or-laying-hens-in-14-u-s-states/
4 https://www.cleaneatingmag.com/clean-diet/food-health-news/decipher-egg-carton-labels