Restaurants in Costa Rica Serve Cage-Free Eggs. What’s the Difference?
Earlier this month, the Humane Society International announced its support of the following restaurants in Costa Rica for their use of cage-free eggs:
The restaurants above are located in the the Greater Metropolitan Area of San Jose. Regarding Oasis’ choice of cage-free eggs, Cynthia Dent, Regional Manager for Latin America of the Humane Society, had the following comment:
“By switching to cage-free eggs, Oasis is promoting more humane treatment of farm animals. Humane Society International applauds Oasis for responding to customers’ concerns about animal welfare and looks forward to working with other restaurants in Costa Rica on similar cage-free policies.”
The Humane Society also highlighted the fact that two of the restaurants mentioned in the press release are also related to organic farmers markets. Ileana Mendez, of Jardín del Parque, is one of the organizers for the Feria Verde de Aranjuez, and the owners of Buena Tierra, Simonetta Salton and Laura Barra, are also organizers of the Feria Orgánica de Escazú.
The Human Society offered the following definition of cage-free eggs:
Hens in battery cages are confined to living areas that provide each bird with less living space than a single sheet of paper. Hens don’t have enough space to fully spread their wings, let alone walk or engage in many other important natural behaviors. Costa Rica has approximately three million egg-laying hens, many of whom are confined in battery cages.
The eggs that come from hens raised in battery cages are known in Costa Rica as “huevos industriales”, while cage-free eggs are known as “huevos de granja.” There are two more terms associated to eggs: free-range and organic.
According to TLC (a Discovery Networks company), cage-free eggs are not so free-range after all, although experts agree that cage-free birds live in significantly better conditions than those in battery cage operations. Cage-free eggs live in warehouses and their feed may be enhanced with antibiotics, vitamins, hormones, etc. These could arguably be the best eggs for human consumption, even better than organic eggs.
In Costa Rica, free-range eggs are similar to organic eggs. The major difference is in the certification and regulation. Free-range eggs can be described as those coming from backyard hens. To use TLC’s definition, these hens:
“have access to the outdoors and direct sunlight with an option for shade, are provided with an exercise area and are fed certified organic feed that contains no pesticides, drugs, antibiotics or animal byproducts.”
The Ministry of Agriculture (MAG in Spanish) in Costa Rica regulates the certification of eggs, which in turn can be performed by experts of the National Chamber of Poultry Farmers (CANAVI) and the National Service of Animal Health and Welfare (SENASA). These certifications are mostly for eggs sold at supermarkets or in large quantities, and consumers can expect to pay more for cage-free, free-range and organic eggs.
A common belief is that purchasing from a farmers market in Costa Rica guarantees organic products. While that is often the case, when it comes to eggs there is nothing to prevent any grocer at the farmers’ market to stop by a PIPASA distribution center the night before and load up on wholesale eggs.
Some Ticos swear by the rule of thumb of visually inspecting the eggs, and if they exhibit too much uniformity and cleanliness they are unlikely to come from backyard chicken farms. This means that eggs of different sizes with a bit of dirt or feathers stuck to the shell at the farmers’ market have a better chance of being free-range. The best measure is to inspect the farm and get to know how the hens are being raised. The chicken coop pictured above is maintained by a Canadian woman living in rural Costa Rica who describes her free-range operation as follows:
“For about $120 worth of material and $100 worth of hens I have more free range eggs then I can handle. Everyone loves eggs though and in no time I started selling eggs to all the neighbors. The profits cover my feed costs and then some. I was a little worried about our dog with the hens but with a little training she is doing just fine.”
The chicken coop may seem like a cage to some people, but it is necessary to protect hens at night from predators, or when they lay eggs, or during extreme weather conditions.
Does the description above sound like the type of eggs you would like to buy? They may not be certified by the MAG or SENASA, but they seem to follow a similar cruelty-free procedure that thousands of family farms around Costa Rica follow.
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