There are many terms used in food marketing these days, and it’s hard to keep up. We know it’s confusing, but we’re here to make it more simple. At least at the egg-set.
When you’re looking for the top-of-the-line, best of the best eggs you can buy at the store (that are better for you, as well as the girls that lay them) look for the words: PASTURE-RAISED. But, even now that’s not enough. You also need to look for the Certified Humane shield.
Since there are no Federally defined regulations for use of the words “pasture-raised” on a carton (for now) it’s essential that the farms are audited by a third party (that has no financial interest or stands to benefit from the sales of your eggs) to verify any such claims. The third party we use at Vital Farms is Certified Humane, and we consider it to be the gold standard for farm animal welfare.
The summary of Certified Humane’s Standards for pasture-raised hens is as follows (though there are many, many more details!):
Pasture-Raised: A management system where adult birds are kept on pasture 12 months of the year, in an outside area that is mainly covered with living vegetation. The birds have access to the pasture through exits from fixed or mobile houses, and covered verandas if present. They are kept indoors at night for protection from predators but it is prohibited to keep them continually indoors 24 hours per day without access to pasture for more than 14 consecutive days. The minimum outdoor space requirement is 2.5 acres (1 hectare) per 1000 birds to meet the Animal Care Standards for Pasture Raised.
And that’s precisely what we do! The recommended flock density of 1,000 birds per 2.5 acres amounts to 108.9 sq. ft. of pasture for each girl – and that’s the pasture-raised difference! This pasture is rotated regularly so that our girls always have the freshest vegetation to chomp on. When they eat the grasses down, they are put onto fresh pasture and by the time they come back around, the grasses have had time to regrow and all parasites that could have been present will have now died off. (More on what’s so great about 108 here: http://vitalfarms.com/great-108/)
If you’re wondering, “Who the heck decided all of this?” Well, a lot of smart people! There are 28 PhDs and veterinarians on Certified Humane’s scientific committee and their expertise has shaped the way CH verifies standards.
And here comes the best part: Certified Humane audits the farms they certify annually, with the possibility of surprise audits at any time. So we’re not just slapping on the Certified Humane badge and calling it a day, we’re actually continuously maintaining those standards so that we can be able to carry their shield in conjunction with the magic words “pasture-raised”. (Not to mention – we care about we do, we care about our girls, and pasture-raising is very important to us.)
So remember – unless there is a third party auditor listed on the egg carton, there is NO substantiation of the label claims, and they are just meaningless words used to comfort consumers into buying their product. We’re happy to go the extra mile to use the Certified Humane badge, just so our customers can be assured they are getting exactly what they hope for.
Just a little peace of mind, for all you Vital Peeps.
(Another wonderful certifier for pasture-raised would be Animal Welfare Approved, whose standards are largely similar to Certified Humane, but who don’t certify flocks of 500 birds or more. As our flocks are typically bigger than that, we can’t use them. But we’re happy with Certified Humane either way!)