For those of you who missed the link I posted earlier in the week, I think this one is worth another mention. Recently the Cornucopia Institute, whose motto is "Promoting Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming," published a ranking of nationwide organic eggs. Some of their criteria you may or may not care about. For example, when you're at the store, you might be more motivated by price than whether or not the eggs came from a family farm (100 points) or an investor-owned, public corporation (70 points), but you still might want the chickens to have plenty of outdoor access and untrimmed beaks.
Three Washington farms qualified for the highest, five-egg rating, meaning "Exemplary--beyond organic." One was our very own Skagit River Ranch. As Cornucopia puts it, "Producers in this top tier manage diverse, small- to medium-scale family farms. They raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in ﬁxed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture. They sell eggs locally or regionally under their farm’s brand name, mostly through farmer’s markets, food cooperatives and/or independently owned natural and grocery stores and sometimes through larger chains like Whole Foods." Having visited Skagit's farm, I can vouch for the chickens running all over the place in the outdoors and sunlight, with plenty of access to pasture and their favorite all-natural food: bugs. Of the other two top-rated farms, Misty Meadows serves the Bellingham area, and Trout Lake Abbey can be found in...Trout Lake.
If, like me, you occasionally miss the Thursday market, or get there too late to get Skagit's hot-commodity eggs, you might be interested in the other organic egg ratings. Namely, the brands you can get at the store. According to the ranking, your best bets would be Wilcox Farms and Stiebrs, both of which received three-egg ratings for their commitment to organic standards and "meaningful outdoor space." Organic Valley also grabbed the three-egg mark, with some asterisks for lack of transparency in study participation and a black mark for some eggs coming from a particular industrial farm in Northern California.
The organic brands to avoid? The following brands which I've seen in local stores garnered a 1-egg rating because they are industrial operations that lack access to the outdoors or transparency in production:
- Eggland's Best
- Chino Valley Ranchers
- Horizon Organic
What the Cornucopia study does not take into account is nutritional value or taste. That ground was covered by a Mother Jones article claiming pastured eggs may contain (and I quote):
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene