'Free Range' Eggs Not Necessarily Healthier
Studies find more contaminants found in eggs from free-range hens
By Truman Lewis
Many consumers think that the more “natural” a food is, the healthier it is. But it’s not necessarily so, as a recent study of “free-range” eggs reminds us.
In a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers in southern Taiwan found that eggs from free range hens contained more than five times the contaminants found in eggs from caged chickens.
While movies like “Food Inc.” have painted a dim picture of the lives led by caged chickens, as opposed to their free-roaming counterparts, the research suggests that chickens free to wander around the farm yard are more likely to gobble down industrial pollutants, pesticide residues and other potentially harmful snacks.
Or as the researchers put it, the findings “give rise to issues related to the safety of eating free range chicken eggs” and suggest further investigation is needed.
The Taiwan study, conducted by researchers at National Cheng Kung University, isn’t the first of its kind. A similar study conducted in Europe between 1987 and 1999 also found higher levels of contaminants in free-range eggs.
Has a similar study been conducted in the U.S.? No one seems quite sure but Phil Lempert, a leading food industry analyst, suggests in an article on his Web site that it’s time to face up to the issue.
While it’s true, Lempert notes, that Taiwan is a small, highly urbanized country, free-range hens in the U.S. aren’t necessarily out roaming around the most pristine environments either.
In fact, many may not go out at all. The term “free-range” means only that hens have access to the outdoors. It doesn’t mean they spend all day there — or that a particular hen’s outdoor environment is anything more than a bare patch of concrete.
Lempert thinks it’s time to clear up the confusion. “It’s unacceptable for these industrial pollutants to be omnipresent in our environment, but it’s better to be aware of the possible issues than in the dark,” he said.