Deciphering the myriad of claims on a carton of eggs

Photo: Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Invariably, I pick up an expensive carton of brown eggs, look inside, poke the eggs to make sure they are loose and unbroken and then set them back down. This continues through 3 cartons of eggs until I finally find a dozen that has copy writing successful enough to convince me that origin of the eggs was an idyllic pasture tended by compassionate farmers. In other words, I have been in desperate need of a guide to separate fact from fiction.

From the New York Times:

Some claims on egg cartons are regulated by the federal government, some by the states and some not at all. Some affect consumers' health, some touch upon ethics and some are meaningless.

All purport to describe how the hens were raised, or what they were fed, or what extra benefits their eggs might provide.

So, what do these terms mean?

Based on the article, I made a cheat sheet for my wallet.

Grade refers to firmness, AA best.
Emblems: National Organic Program, U.S.D.A., Animal Family Farmers (independents, less than 500 chickens), Humane Farm Animal Care, American Humane Society
Organic: needs National Organic Program emblem
Chickens are naturally omnivores, but non-vegetarian feed can contain all manner of terrible things
Pasture raised, which means non-vegetarian
DHA Omega-3
Pasteurized, good for recipes with raw eggs
Antibiotics claim requires USDA or National Organic Program certification

Less than ideal, but better than meaningless:

Grade refers to firmness, A good.
Emblems: United Egg Producers Certified
Cage free almost meaningless, free range is a little better
ALA Omega-3

Meaningless or bad:
Grade refers to firmness, B bad.
Terms natural, naturally raised, hormones are meaningless

Perhaps somebody will craft an attractively designed egg-shaped card suitable for lamination but, until that occurs, I will be relying on the above cheater.

New York Times on egg carton labeling