In Italy there is a famous saying: “Country you go, custom you find” that in English could be translated as: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. It means that every country has its own culture, tradition, food and, of course, food labeling!
I don’t know if you feel the same, but reading a label has become increasingly difficult, unless you have a dictionary with you! When I first moved to the U.S., I was surprised by all the terms that were used to differentiate a product from another.
The first things I did entering into a grocery store were pulling out a sweater (to protect me from the air-conditioning and from the cold showcases) and my glasses to read the food labels! Doing grocery was a “hard” job due to the cold and to my poor knowledge of the “food terms”. Then, if you add that I’m curious by nature and in a general American grocery there are products and brands totally unknown in Europe, you will understand why it took me hours before buying something to eat or drink.
The more difficult items to buy were meat and eggs. I was completely lost between free-range chickens, free-cage ones, naturally raised, pasture raised and so on. The same thing happened when I moved back to Italy where, instead of terms to indicate the type of eggs, they use a numeric code. However, luckily for me, here, I do not have to use a sweater since the air-conditioning is not too appreciated.
This is a comparison between the American and Italian eggs’ labels.
Cage Free Eggs: chickens are not kept in cages, have continuous access to food and water. However, most of the time, they do not have access to the outdoors.
Free Range Eggs: chickens are not kept in cages and have access to the outdoors. However, there is no regulation about the amount of time and quality of outdoor access. No restrictions on the chickens’ food. This system of production is more expensive due to the higher production costs and lower volume per farm.
Certified Humane: chickens are out of cages inside barns and warehouses. They may not have access to the outdoors and the producers must follow definite and precise standards. http://www.certifiedhumane.com
Organic Eggs: chickens are kept free of cages with outdoor access. Their food must be organic and vegetarian. Growth hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Producers must follow the USDA organic standards.
Animal Welfare Approved: small eggs’ producers with up to 500 chickens that can spend unlimited time outside on pesticide free-pasture. Chickens do not have their beaks cut.
These are misleading terms: natural, naturally raised, no hormones, no antibiotics do not mean nothing since these words are not regulated!
Take some time to look at these slides, I’m sure they will surprise and shock you! http://www.humanemyth.org/cagefree.htm
This is a great website with a lot of information regarding eggs and the terminology (look the “Eggcyclopedia”). http://www.incredibleegg.org/
So, what type of eggs you have to buy? Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and Organic! Try to remember these terms on your next trip to the grocery store!
ITALY & E.U.
In the E.U. the label consists of a code of 11 (or less) letters and numbers. This code indicates the country of production, the method of production (cage, free cage, free range cage, organic) and the specific area and farm of production. Obviously, the methods of production are the same of the U.S., only the labeling method is different!
This is an example of an Italian label:
This is a U.K. label:
It is a MUST spending a little bit of our time reading and understanding the label in order to insure a more correct, “painless” or more ethical method of production. Therefore, if you want to eat eggs in the E.U. be sure to buy the “0” or a least the “1” types.