Questioning Pastured Eggs

Update to this post: The Director of Customer Service gathered statements from each of the farms where their eggs are sourced, shared at the end of this post in the comments.

If you follow along on my instagram stories, you're probably aware that I have been questioning Sun Basket about integrity of their ingredients, namely regarding their "Organic Pasture-Raised Eggs" included in their meal prep kits. My family has been using Sun Basket meal kits almost weekly for over a year because they are basically think-proof meal planning (original review here, back when I was still eating meat!).

Sun Basket subscribers select the recipes they want each week and are sent high, quality, organic ingredients for each meal.

Or so I thought.

Pastured Eggs & How Sun Basket is Mislabeling | janny: organically.

I've been contacting Sun Basket about their eggs for over 5 weeks (since 6/27/17) and hoped this could have been resolved privately. Unfortunately, it has come to a point where I am not comfortable using or recommending Sun Basket anymore, or until I can be made certain of their ingredient quality.

I share this information not as an angry customer, but someone who has had several readers put their faith in a company because I vouched for them. It is only fair my readers be kept in the loop about what I've uncovered and make a decision to continue using them or not. 

After my initial question to Sun Basket, I kept being asked for my email and then never followed up with. So we ping-ponged back and forth about them getting back to me and me following up when they didn't. 

Something felt off.

Maybe it's because I've been getting them for so long or that I'm an ingredient hound, I notice little things. I noticed when they listed the vessel and captain of the ship my fish came from, for example, or when they switched to 100% recyclable packaging. I also noticed when they began referring to their organic eggs as "pastured." At first, this was exciting news, as I had starting buying pastured eggs after learning the difference between all the egg labels. 

Here's a nifty guide to hopefully help, not confuse, things.

Pastured Eggs & How Sun Basket is Mislabeling | janny: organically.
Difference in egg yolk color between a pastured egg and cage free eggs

Another good way to tell the difference between factory farmed, organic, cage free, free-range, pasture raised, etc. is the difference in yolk color. Yolk color can range from a light, pale yellow to a deep, bright orange. The more nutrient dense the diet, the deeper orange color the yolk will be. 

So when I started noticing the vast difference in color between my Certified Humane Pastured Eggs from Vital Farms and the "Organic pastured" eggs from Sun Basket was, I started to feel like I got a bad batch or maybe the hens where being supplemented with more organic grains/corn due to weather, but when it's summer in the United States, weather can't possibly be an excuse to keep pastured chickens indoors and/or grain fed instead of letting them forage on grass, veggies and bugs.

So after a number of emails, a customer service representative finally disclosed the name of their egg supplier:

Pete & Gerry's Certified Humane Organic Free Range Eggs. Hmm. Looks like I was right. This farm doesn't even claim to offer pastured eggs. In my estimation, this is flat-out false advertising.

So what is the difference between Free Range and Pasture-Raised?

The USDA’s (and industry standard) definition for “Free Range” is that birds must have “outdoor access” or “access to the outdoors.”  In some cases, this can mean access only through a “pop hole,” with no full-body access to the outdoors and no minimum space requirement.

Humane Farm Animal Care’s (HFAC) Certified Humane® “Free Range” requirement is 2 sq. ft. per bird.  The hens must be outdoors, weather permitting (in some areas of the country, seasonal), and when they are outdoors they must be outdoors for at least 6 hours per day.  All other standards must be met.

HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 sq. ft. per bird) and the fields must be rotated.  The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile or fixed housing where the hens can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or for up to two weeks out of the year, due only to very inclement weather. All additional standards must be met.  

Sure enough, Pete & Gerry's confirm their birds have 2 sq ft per bird of grazing space when they are outdoors.

  • To put this in perspective, 1 acre or 43,560 feet, of land houses:
    • 21,780 Free Range Chickens vs.
    • 403 Pasture Raised Chickens

That's a huge difference. Being a Free Range chicken is like walking through Disneyland at average capacity while being a Pasture Raised Chicken is like having the entire theme park shut down for a private event with access to special rides.

Not only are pastured hens more comfortable, the product, the egg, is more nutricious than commercial eggs. When comparing the two, lead investigator Heather Karsten, associate professor of crop production ecology, said: "Compared to eggs of the commercial hens, eggs from pastured hens eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids," she said. "Vitamin A concentration was 38 percent higher in the pastured hens' eggs than in the commercial hens' eggs, but total vitamin A per egg did not differ."

The farm Sun Basket uses is Certified Humane and Organic, which is great, and their chickens get to be outdoors, but it's a far cry from being Pasture-Raised. The fact that I was able to piece all of this together simply by the color and taste of the yolk tells me they aren't getting enough grass/bugs to eat on the land and are fed primarily grains and/or corn, which, for some of us who are sensitive to those items may have a reaction just by eating the eggs. A friend of mine gets a rash each time she eats an egg that's not pastured. While that's not as common, it is something to think about.

As for Sun Basket, I hope they clarify their labels and work to regain trust. If they are labeling "Free Range" eggs "Pastured"; what else is mislabeled? Is the grass-fed beef truly grass fed? Is the organic chicken even organic?

Maybe they could start by actually communicating with me, an affiliate with their company, to get legitimate concerns addressed instead of continuing to skirt them.

If this concerns you, I'd encourage you to politely inquire to Sun Basket directly about your concerns. Please do not harass their eggs supplier, who isn't hiding anything about their product. I hope they see the importance of transparency, customer service and ingredient integrity and provide proper labeling for their eggs. Better still, source a farm that provides truly pastured eggs.