[The episode in question, "The Egg Crackdown", aired on March 11th on CBC and can currently be seen on the cbc.ca website or if you have a TV streaming service.]
Basically what they want to determine is whether eggs have any nutritional differences or taste better if they are:
Organic / Pesticide Free
Pasture Fed Hens
Grass Fed Hens
Grain Fed Hens
And I said, sure, absolutely. Free eggs to eat? Certainly I shall take part in this taste test.
Apparently they found my website because they were looking for people in Toronto who really love eggs. And they found my website because of some past comments I made about the number of eggs I eat in a week.
During and after the filming of the episode I had a number of thoughts concerning the whole issue of the "welfare of chickens", primarily in relation to an egg farmer who was also one of the taste testers in our group...
Let me put it this way...
Egg farmers are not Satan worshipers who torture chickens in order to get them to lay more eggs and kill chickens maliciously - or whatever PETA / animal rights activists are claiming that they do to chickens.
Quite the opposite.
Happy Chickens Lay More Eggs.
That was the egg farmer's chief contention. If chickens are kept warm, well fed, protected from the elements and predators (foxes, raccoons, etc) then they lay more eggs. The happier and more well fed the chickens are, the more eggs they lay.
So from the egg farmer's perspective his goals are to keep the chickens inside where they are both warm and protected from the elements / predators (because sick or dead chickens don't lay eggs) and to keep them well fed.
Cleanliness was also an issue for him. Not just because clean chickens are healthier and lay more eggs, but because the smell of chicken **** is not something very pleasant to be smelling.
During the blind taste test we were asked to rank the eggs by how good they tasted (and in my case I also ranked the eggs by how salty they tasted, how bland they tasted and any other notes I felt was important) and which ones we thought were conventionally laid in egg factory barns where the chickens are kept safe in cages, and which eggs we thought were organic, free range and pasture-fed.
Now lets explain the differences...
Conventional eggs are laid in modern egg barns, wherein thousands of chickens are kept in cages and their eggs are collected daily. They are kept warm, watered and well fed through automated feeders and have their cages cleaned daily. They are also often subject to antibiotics to keep them from getting sick.
Organic eggs are from chickens are still kept in cages just like conventional chickens, but are fed organic-grown chicken feed which is supposedly free from pesticides, but might still have pesticides on the chicken feed in the event that neighbouring farms sprayed their crops with pesticides and the wind carried the pesticide.
Free range or free run eggs come from chickens that are allowed to roam around inside the barn and part of the farmyard that is fenced in. The idea here is that the chickens get more variety into their diet, but are still being fed chicken feed in addition to whatever they manage to eat outside.
Pasture eggs are from pasture-fed chickens who get all or most of their food from living outdoors. This means they are more prone to diseases and predators, but they are getting the most abundant variety of food.
Next, my results during the blind taste test.
A - Tasted bland. This one came last in terms of taste.
B - Saltier and tastier. Tied with D for 3rd place.
C - Way tastier. This one came in 1st in terms of taste.
D - Saltier and tastier. In my opinion B and D tasted almost exactly the same, tied for 3rd. D tasted slightly less saltier than B.
E - A little bland. I ranked this one 5th place.
F - Way tastier. Practically tied with C in my opinion, but I could only pick 1 so I gave this one 2nd place.
And now the results...
A was a conventional white egg grown in a factory barn.
B was a free run brown egg. This explains why it tasted better than A. It was 3rd best nutrition wise.
C was a pasture-fed brown egg. It was actually the 2nd best in terms of which was the healthiest.
D was a conventional white egg grown in a factory barn, but from a different brand than A.
E was an organic brown egg, and the 3rd worst in terms of nutritional content.
F was a pasture-fed brown egg. It was the #1 healthiest of all we tested, although almost tied with C.
So my taste buds felt vindicated at least. I had chosen the top two tastiest and healthiest eggs.
I was expecting A and E to be the conventional eggs, but I was surprised to learn it was A and D who were conventional, and that E tasted so bland that it is basically indistinguishable from conventional eggs - proof that feeding chickens organic chicken feed doesn't make their eggs taste any better.
The three best tasting being the free run and the pasture eggs were also the tastiest and healthiest. However they are also the most expensive.
All of the eggs from the different brands were also tested in a lab and the lab results showed that they were all accurate as to their labels with respect to fat content, sodium content, protein content, etc.
So there are health reasons and culinary reasons why you might choose tastier/healthier eggs to eat.
However for people on a budget, regular conventional eggs are still pretty healthy anyway. They're still good for you regardless.
And as for the chicken lovers who want their chickens to be able to roam free, to be organic, hormone and antibiotics free, I am sorry, but you people need to realize that making chickens sick and having them die of diseases or being eaten by foxes is only going to make the foxes happy. Yes, the eggs are healthier and tastier, but you need to be praising these eggs for the right reasons.
Also if your primary goal is the ethics of "animal cruelty" maybe you should stop eating eggs and meat altogether and just become a vegan. I have past posts on this topic if this is something that interests you. eg. See my 30 Days as a Vegetarian posts from 2015.
Worrying about these things when egg farmers know the truth is clearly not going to help you.
Having both participated in the filming / taste test, and also having seen the show after it aired, it is clear that how much free space chickens need to be happy is a matter of debate.
Happy Chickens Lay More Eggs.
My logic goes like this: If I can get twice as many conventional eggs for the same price people pay for other eggs, I will probably choose the double-eggs approach. More protein for me.
If clients ask me "Which eggs are the healthiest?" I will of course answer that pasture-fed chickens have the tastiest eggs and are healthier, however I will also ask them how many they like to eat at once and whether they can see themselves eating extra just for the extra protein. In which case, they have a decision to make. Healthier eggs or extra protein? Or both? Or maybe supplement your diet with multivitamins?
I am less worried about the taste because I always add spices anyway.
Which begs a good question... How healthy are spices? Which spices are the best for you to eat? Which ones taste the best? Is there a correlation between the healthiest spices and the tastiest spices? Is too much pepper bad for me?
On a side topic, maybe CBC's Marketplace could do an episode in the future about sheep farms in Canada and the practice of butchering lambs for food. I currently eat lamb maybe once every two months, but given the option of eating mutton instead I would prefer to eat mutton. I may not be worried about the welfare of chickens, but I am curious about these young lambs being killed.
Happy and Healthy Eating!