Morning!  This morning had a very slow start – not necessary a good thing.  It may be a Sunday, but I have a ton of work to do… Ugh.


Perfect Sunday breakfast, if you ask me!


Scrambled eggs, toast, Moringstar sausages, orange, and berries.  Mmm.



Actually, today’s breakfast got me thinking about Vegetarian-Fed Eggs.  Have you seen cartons like these at the grocery store?




I noticed these eggs a while back and thought – “Hmm, isn’t that kind of weird?”  I always thought chickens should ideally be eating worms and bugs… They aren’t suppose to be vegetarian, right?


Well, just as I wrote in the Egg-cellent Labeling post, a lot of egg labeling is merely about making the consumer feel good about the product (and thus be more willing to spend lots of money on ‘special’ eggs).  And yes, chickens aren’t technically suppose to be vegetarian, but in this case, we’re not talking about chickens raised on a lovely, green farm.  We’re talking about chickens raised en-masse for purposes of egg delivery.  Hence, they aren’t hunting for worms and bugs – they are eating whatever the farmer gives them while they are stuck in little cages.


So – here’s the truth behind the label!


Vegetarian eggs are eggs that come from hens who are fed a vegetarian diet.  Vegetarian hens are a direct result of concern over hens eating animal byproducts, like their fellow egg-laying hens that died in the same factory farm.  Now, it is generally illegal to fed cattle back to cattle (due to Mad Cow’s disease), but in general, pigs can be fed pigs and turkeys can be fed to turkeys.  Also, pigs, chickens, and turkeys that have been fed cattle bits can be fed back to cattle (basically, a horrible loophole that creates a risk for Mad Cow’s disease anyway!).  (Source)


Many would argue that re-feeding protein (“wasted protein”) back to animals is a good thing because it’s environmentally conscious, but it creates a lot of potentially problems in terms of the spread of disease. 


When you see vegetarian eggs, that simply means the chickens are not fed animal by-products in their feed.  It doesn’t mean the chickens necessarily LIVE in any better conditions (check out this post for humane labeling explanations). 


Interesting, right?  Now you know!



  • Kristen June 5, 2011, 11:41 am

    I would definitely thought that was just a gimmick. It sounds fake. Thanks for the explanation!

  • Chad @ thebreakupnote June 5, 2011, 11:43 am

    When they labelled it “Cage Free” they were, of course, referring to the EMOTIONAL CAGE of having to hunt for your own food.

  • Stacy @ Every Little Thing June 5, 2011, 11:45 am

    It’s really important for people to remember that the organic label is the ONLY true label regulated by the federal government, and even that is not always ideal. There are some other regulated labels catching on, but that is the only label that really means anything at this point. The “free-range” label is especially tricky because farmers can give chickens 5 minutes in the sunlight every day and call that “free-range.” All it means is that chickens aren’t penned.

    With eggs (and chicken!), you really want to go 100% organic or local, if you know your local farms! Local is ideal of course 🙂

    • Andrew Gunther June 5, 2011, 12:32 pm

      Stacy sorry organic doesn’t mean birds are out doors or on pasture of course some are, in the real exponents of Organics systems. However the chances are the eggs you buy at the supermarket will have come from flocks of 20,000 never seeing a blade of grass or outdoors for that mater. And fed a diet that means if they become ill they just have to suffer. Caitlin is doing an incredible job of making this very complex subject very understandable. The NOSB could have moved to fix this horror but didn’t leaving Big Ag to benefit from the real organic farmers models. Take a look at the NOSB board it might shed some light on why the rules favor the industry. Cornucopia did a good job of calling out the industrial models.

      • Baking 'n' Books June 5, 2011, 4:14 pm

        I was thinking the same thing – organic essentially refers to being free from added pesticides/chemicals, etc – correct? Nothing to do with the living conditions?

        So really you’d have to look for something like “free-run” possibly or cage-free or maybe something local…

        The difficulty is that I really don’t have these types of options available to me. But I love chicken and am not a vegetarian. So I have to just buy what is available and the cheapest often…

  • maureen ganley June 5, 2011, 11:47 am

    Great commentary and important points to help people understand the commonly confusing food labels. Thank you!

  • Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans June 5, 2011, 11:52 am

    I try to buy free run eggs and make sure I have an idea of where they come from.

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen June 5, 2011, 12:13 pm

    Thanks for the explanation. I think I just need to go buy my own chicken 😉

  • Holly @ The Runny Egg June 5, 2011, 12:19 pm

    Isn’t it amazing what all of these labels and such mean?

  • Khushboo June 5, 2011, 12:19 pm

    Interesting point about eggs! I’m sure hardcore vegetarians would appreciate them.

  • Tami June 5, 2011, 12:32 pm

    We just got chickens and my husband is reading so much info about them and the strangest thing that he has told me is how msny people fed chicken to their chickens!!

  • Krista @ Journey to a Healthy Berg June 5, 2011, 12:34 pm

    That’s really interesting, I’ve never even seen “vegetarian eggs” at the store before.

  • Penny June 5, 2011, 12:35 pm

    Ew. I’m so glad I’m a vegetarian. That is nasty stuff. And I’m glad I have my own chickens to lay eggs for me.

  • Chelsea June 5, 2011, 12:41 pm

    I think it’s sad what people will put on labels to make people think that they’re eating chickens that are being treated humanely and fairly… =/

  • Devonshire June 5, 2011, 12:45 pm

    thanks for the post! I get all my eggs from my farmer friend! I can go look at the chickens whenever i want, see what he feeds them and watch them hunt for worms and bugs on his farm! no labels required! (just reused egg

  • Ashley @ the fit academic June 5, 2011, 12:45 pm

    Wow – this is crazy! I’m so glad you explained it…it just blows my mind! Ugh! Makes me want to live on a farm and just keep my own chickens (and turkeys, and cows, etc.) If only it were more practical….*sigh*

  • Chelsea @ Go Chelsea Go! June 5, 2011, 12:51 pm

    I haven’t seen cartons like that before, but it’s interesting to know that this is how the industry is trying to assuage the fears of the consumer. If only the FDA would make these industries shape up….

  • Katie (Sweet Tater) June 5, 2011, 12:58 pm

    egg labels are so confusing.

    • Kelly June 5, 2011, 1:44 pm


  • Mac June 5, 2011, 1:05 pm

    Very interesting… I knew nothing about this!

  • Mandy the Mood Eater June 5, 2011, 1:07 pm

    How interesting about “vegetarian eggs”! I’m always leery about eggs in general and cannot wait to have a hen coop of my own one day so I know where my eggs come from!

  • Eric Marcotte, MD June 5, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Keep spreading the news! Those Eggland veggie eggs are ridiculous and I’m glad you point it out. What the chickens eat matters a lot to what the egg nutrition will be but where they live and how they are treated should matter more. ‘Pasture raised’ is probably the only quick-glance label we should believe at the market, most of the other claims can be hiding an ugly truth.

  • Kate (What Kate is Cooking) June 5, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Very interesting! I never knew why the label said that.

  • Teresa June 5, 2011, 1:48 pm

    I have no problem eating the conventional eggs at the grocery store. I’m tired of all the food scare-mongering. They’re just eggs, not designer jeans.

    • Amanda June 6, 2011, 12:10 pm

      This isn’t about a food scare- it’s about basic ethics.

      • Teresa June 6, 2011, 12:47 pm

        So eating plain ‘ol eggs makes me unethical? I’m tired of the food guilt, too.

        • Amanda June 6, 2011, 12:56 pm

          I’m sorry if I came across as offensive- that wasn’t my intention. All that I meant was that if there is a more ethical option for our food, we should choose it. I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty.

        • Caitlin June 6, 2011, 1:42 pm

          It’s not food guilt but IF you care about where your food comes from, you might find this post interesting. If you choose to eat conventional eggs, it doesn’t really bother me. If you choose to pay $$ for more humane/environmentally friendly eggs, then you might find this information useful. That’s all. It’s not scare-mongering or guilt. It’s about knowledge and information.

  • Molly @ RDexposed June 5, 2011, 1:51 pm

    Which is more corrupt? Politics or food system? Equal since CEO of food manufacturers are elected into office?

  • Christina June 5, 2011, 1:52 pm

    I know companies go through a lot to put the labels on there, but it’s kind of ridiculous. Why not give the people what they want, foods that are humanely raised? It’s like the kid that is cheating but misses an answer or two to make it look like they’re not. Why go through the extra effort of doing wrong and then planning covering it up.

    • Caitlin June 5, 2011, 1:53 pm

      Hahah because doing the wrong thing is cheaper 🙂 Sad but true. I like your analogy though!

  • The Teenage Taste June 5, 2011, 2:01 pm

    It’s sick how marketers and huge food companies try to take advantage of people and sucker them into spending more money. Absolutely disgusting! 🙁

  • Lindsey June 5, 2011, 2:09 pm

    That is interesting! I bought eggs this week that say on the package : Grain Fed, Vitamin enhanced eggs from hens fed a vegetarian diet without animal by-products. I liked that the package explained exactly what I was buying. Typically I don’t buy these types of eggs but they were on sale and thought I would try them. But I also do wish that along with the above that the chicken also lived happier lives!

  • Morgan June 5, 2011, 2:35 pm

    Huh, I have never seen this labeled eggs in the store. But, I would have definitely cocked my head in confusion. Thanks for low down!

  • Emma (Namaste Everyday) June 5, 2011, 3:55 pm

    that is really interesting! I always just assumed they were fed some kind of processed corn-derivative, and I NEVER thought they would be fed meat! I think that’s terrible! thanks for the info 🙂 now I know, and I’ll certainly be thinking about that next time I make a choice on my eggs

  • Ellie@fitforthesoul June 5, 2011, 4:44 pm

    whoa whoa! ahha i don’t know….this whole info is really crazy and weird to think about! Never knew this existed, and it’s so odd that animals are fed their own brothers and sisters.
    Have a great day Caitlin!

  • Carol June 5, 2011, 5:13 pm

    Ok that’s just gross. I get my eggs (most of the time) from a local farmer who raises them free range on her farm. I stopped eating chicken because of the conditions they are raised in. It just makes my stomach turn.

    • Marissa C June 5, 2011, 7:27 pm

      My mom used to be able to get these. I need to ask her if she still can. BEST EGGS EVER.

  • Moni'sMeals June 5, 2011, 5:23 pm

    yes, I knew this but only until recently. So gross to think of. But that is only another reason why I don’t eat meat. same thing going on.

    Loved your Brussels recipe yesterday!


  • Liv @ The Salty n' Sweet June 5, 2011, 5:53 pm

    Thinking about animals being fed their own kind is completely disgusting. Why do these factory farms think that that’s acceptable?!?

  • Ash @ Good Taste Healthy Me June 5, 2011, 7:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I love reading about this. I find it very interesting. I like to enjoy a couple meatless meals a week. Haven’t gone total vegetarian yet!

  • Miranda @ Working Mom Works Out June 5, 2011, 7:30 pm

    I have yet to see that labeling, but I’m sure it’s on it’s way. I try to by cage-free and organic eggs. I would like to find someone locally to buy from so I can actually see where they come from.

    Thanks for keeping us informed, Caitlin!

  • Stephanie June 5, 2011, 7:53 pm

    “Many would argue that re-feeding protein (“wasted protein”) back to animals is a good thing because it’s environmentally conscious, but it creates a lot of potentially problems in terms of the spread of disease.”

    I know, right? And if people are worried about being environmentally conscious, they shouldn’t be eating animal products, period.

  • Lauren June 5, 2011, 7:59 pm

    Very interesting…thanks for sharing!

  • Rachel (Olalliberry) June 5, 2011, 8:18 pm

    I remember asking you about this a couple of weeks ago, thank you for investigating!! More incentive to buy from a local farm when possible.

  • Heather June 5, 2011, 10:18 pm

    Hey there,off topic but its kinda like the big issue about animal by products in pet foods. I looked it up and it says they can use deceased dogs and cats in pet food as filler. It is scary to think what we would be eating and feeding our pets if we didn’t have the internet.

  • Jessica @ The Process of Healing June 5, 2011, 11:58 pm

    Interesting! I HATE to think of how chickens and other animals are treated… it hurts me to think about the poor animals!

  • Sarah@The Flying ONION June 6, 2011, 7:55 am

    I never, ever thought of this! And I’m so glad you brought it to the forefront. I think it’s an issue that needs to be discussed. All the more reason to get started with owning my own chickens. 😉

  • Shelby June 6, 2011, 9:27 am

    wowww!!! had no idea!! very interesting!!! thanks for posting this!

  • Ashley O. @ The Vegetable Life June 6, 2011, 9:36 am

    Such a great article! I had bought vegetarian feed eggs in the past, but now I might go further to the organic, free-range, cage-free eggs…..

  • Rebecca June 6, 2011, 10:59 am

    Interesting–egg labels are confusing! I eat eggs often and try to buy eggs with labels that say the chickens have not been given hormones. The ones we have now are vegetarian fed, which I hoped meant they were not fed products from other animals that had been given hormones.

  • Ashley K June 6, 2011, 11:12 am

    oh, i finally started my own blog!

    🙂 thanks for all your inspiration!

  • Amber K June 6, 2011, 11:46 am

    Ugh, it’s such a giant pain to keep all of the labeling loopholes straight. We definitely need better legislation.

  • Heather June 6, 2011, 12:15 pm

    Thanks for the egg information. I just can’t believe that animals are fed….eww..other animals….especially their own species!

    I was at a farmers marlet this weekend, the care that people have for the food that they produce is so inspiring!

  • Johanna B June 6, 2011, 2:27 pm

    This is an aside..

    I noticed yesterday that my neighbors to the south have a flock of chickens running around their back yard. Hmmm… my cat is well-fed but not a vegetarian. I hope he stays away from the chickens.

  • Kara June 6, 2011, 2:28 pm

    Background: I was an Animal and Poultry Sciences major at VT.

    Chicken shit has a ton of protein. It’s great cattle feed. One poultry farmer I met told me that he made more money selling bags of chicken shit for cow feed than he did for selling his chickens to Perdue.

    Even fancy ethical farmers like Polyface farms use the power of chicken shit.

    Really, if it made me run faster, I’d probably eat it too.

  • Elaine June 15, 2011, 1:12 pm

    Chicken feed is carefully formulated. If hens aren’t treated well, they don’t lay eggs — and that includes their diets.

    Like humans, chickens need fat in their diets to help them absorb nutrients. Vegetable oil is preferable over animal fats. I appreciate a label that tells me that.

    BTW, most egg farms in the US are owned by families that have been in the business for generations. They have contracts to sell their eggs for distribution, or they built a distribution system of their own. As a result they’re “businessmen/women.” You should visit one of the farms yourself and talk to the people who run them. I’ve done this myself and found people who care about their animals and have college degrees in agriculture and animal sciences. The world was probably simpler when their grandfathers were in charge, but the modern farmer has had to adapt.

    Believe me when I tell you that “bad” farmers are the exception and not the rule.

    It would be nice if the world could be fed by little bucolic neighborhood farms, but it’s just not possible to fulfill food demand that way.

    As an vegetarian animal-lover, I admire the willingness to spend more $ to get “ethical” food. But I do implore you not to demonize farmers until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes first. Second-hand information is not completely reliable.

  • Dawn May 30, 2012, 9:20 am

    I actually just came across vegetarian-fed hens the other day, when checking out one of our local family farms just outside the city. The farmer told me, when I asked about his feed source, that he had put his hens on a vegetarian diet supplemented by omega 3. It sounded a little bit like a sales spiel, but the hens (which I didn’t see, but could hear in a barn next to his greenhouse) sounded happy. I figured I’d give them a shot.

    They’re not amazing, but they’re noticeably denser shells than the store eggs we bought last week and the yolks are a good medium orange – not as rich and dark as some I’ve seen but not that watery pale yellow of the store eggs, either. I can’t say I’d buy them regularly because $2.55/doz isn’t something my income can support, but I don’t regret trying. Chickens might not be meant to live on a vegetarian diet, but with all the concerns about the sources of animal protein in feed these days, I can’t blame the farmer for avoiding it (and giving himself another selling point with which to lure people away from the Whole Foods that just opened half a mile from his farm stand…)

  • Ed Zachary June 30, 2013, 12:11 pm

    Since chickens in nature are omnivores, i.e., they eat both vegetable foods like seeds, grass and fruit, AND they eat meat like bugs, worms, spiders, and if they catch one, small lizards and such, feeding them an exclusively vegetarian diet is likely to be unhealthy and deprive them of needed nutrients. My sister-in-law raises all-organic, all-vegetarian chickens and raves about how great the eggs taste. I see eggs that are 2/3 the size I normally find in the grocery, and can’t tell any difference in taste. I think her chickens are getting a deficient diet because she has transferred her own organic and vegetarian beliefs to the chickens’s diet.

  • Mandy July 25, 2013, 3:31 am

    Chickens will WILLINGLY eat other chickens. I’ve seen it many times on my grandparents farm as a kid. Maybe it was just the specific breed they had – I don’t know. But I would see several chickens pick on one, pecking it to death basically, then after it was dead they’d try and eat it. My grandpa would take it away. And I’ve seen them chase down mice, lizards, snakes, and all sorts of bugs/worms. They are omnivores and should not be deprived of their natural diet. It is a form of abuse to deny them their natural intended diet.

    Yeah, it’s pretty gross for animals to be fed their own kind. Pigs are omnivores and in the wild they DO eat each other. And as I mentioned above, chickens do as well. I’m not saying the treatment and nutrition they receive is ethical….but they are animals and we cannot keep personifying every aspect of their lives.

    Cows, on the other hand, are strictly vegetarians and should never be fed animal protein…and they should not be fed corn either!

  • Amy March 28, 2014, 9:34 am

    So feeding them nicer diets and then cutting their heads off and plucking their guts out is more humane? Sigh,

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