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What are Vegetarian Eggs?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Vegetarian eggs are eggs which come from hens who are fed a vegetarian diet. There are several different styles of these eggs, and many people associate them with the humane and ethical husbandry of chickens. These eggs are usually clearly marked at the grocers', and they may be more expensive than conventional eggs. Some people feel that this cost is worth it.

Interest in vegetarian eggs arose in response to concerns about chickens eating animal byproducts, including remains of other chickens. Since cannibalism has been linked with Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) in many species, some people expressed concerns that chickens which ate chickens could develop such a disease, potentially passing it on to people who ate them. Concern about eating chicken byproducts is also related to the natural repugnance which many people feel when they think about cannibalism, as the practice often seems wrong to people.

Ovo-vegetarians also like to seek out vegetarian eggs, especially ovo-vegetarians who pursue a vegetarian lifestyle out of concern for animal welfare. These consumers like the thought of eating eggs which come from a vegetarian chicken, and they also support the idea of raising chickens humanely. Other fans of humane animal raising practices may seek out vegetarian free range eggs to support this type of animal husbandry.

Practices used when raising vegetarian eggs vary. Many companies which sell them claim to raise free-range chickens, which means that their eggs are not actually vegetarian, since chickens are omnivores, and they will happily eat insects, worms, and other small creatures. However, the chicken farmers who raise free range chickens often sell their eggs as vegetarian anyway when their provided feed includes no animal byproducts.

Vegetarian eggs can also come from battery hens, however, so if animal welfare is a concern, you may want to find eggs which are certified as coming from free range chickens. The free range standards also vary widely, which is something to keep in mind. For example, chickens can be kept indoors for much of their life and still be considered “free range” as long as a door is periodically opened to theoretically allow the chickens out. When raised in these conditions, it is very easy to control the diet of the confined chickens, so ironically the only truly vegetarian eggs come from chickens who are not raised humanely, and are therefore dependent on the farmer for all their food.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon344993 — On Aug 14, 2013

Same logic. Cows eat vegetarian so steak could be labeled vegetarian too.

By anon326423 — On Mar 21, 2013

If a hen lays an egg, surely if it hatches out, it becomes a chicken regardless of what it has been fed on, so there is no way an egg can be called vegetarian, can it?

By anon272887 — On Jun 04, 2012

I shake my head with wonder at the concept of vegetarian eggs. We have six chickens who are allowed to roam our property to forage for whatever their little hearts desire. (I must point out they have very good mixed seed, kitchen scraps, a clean water supply and a very secure hen house). So when they go hunting, it is for insects, mice and lizards (watching them hunt is a hoot!) So it seems to me that if an egg is labeled vegetarian, the hen that produced that egg must be living a very restricted life, not one that a vegetarian would espouse if animal welfare is the reason for their diet.

By anon181780 — On May 31, 2011

I heard from someone that a hen lays an egg or two every day even without mating. So i think those eggs won't have a life in them. does anybody know more?

By anon166606 — On Apr 09, 2011

Chickens were meant to forage for food, eating insects and some seeds/vegetative matter. I wish someone would provide us with eggs (and chicken meat for that matter) from chickens which were fed their natural diet.

By anon132290 — On Dec 06, 2010

@anon130547: If you care so much about world hunger, you too would be vegetarian. A large part of the food crops that we grow go towards feeding animals for human consumption. If we all ate lower on the food chain, there would be more food to go around.

Secondly, I highly doubt that any vegetarian would not eat a chicken egg because the chicken consumed insects. Insects are a natural part of the chicken's diet, and forbidding it to eat insects would be unnatural.

By anon132130 — On Dec 05, 2010

the RSPCA doesn't agree with vegetarian eggs as they can be laid by battery hens.

By anon130547 — On Nov 29, 2010

Do you people realize that there are people all over the world starving to death and all you can think about is keeping chickens from eating insects. Are you people insane?

Not to mention that the entire idea of being a vegan or even a vegetarian is the most ridiculous endeavor known to man. Honestly, what is wrong with you people?

By anon122322 — On Oct 27, 2010

This absolutely proves that when someone says they eat "vegetarian" they are out of their minds. The idea of a vegetarian egg is completely contrary to any vegetarian concept and simply a way of arguing that you follow a concept you are unable, in fact, to commit to. Anything can be justified by the weak minded and weak willed.

By anon94179 — On Jul 07, 2010

My parents raise chickens (as pets) and the Momma chicken will eat her eggs if they are unfertilized. Therefore I believe if you eat cage free "vegetarian" eggs or buy them from someone who raises chickens as pets then eating eggs should be all right.

By anon94082 — On Jul 07, 2010

How can one examine that the egg comes in market is veg? I mean are there any specific norms and specifications so that a person can easily recognize one? -Anurag

By anon77464 — On Apr 14, 2010

I am vegan but my son eats all bakery products with eggs. If chickens eat all those things! This is news to me. Oh my God! I had better look for veg eggs for my family.

By anon71284 — On Mar 18, 2010

the whole concept is contradictory to whole i have believed my entire life. i think if the hen is not mated with a rooster to get an egg, it could be vegetarian. but again. If it is produced by battery hens, it is very wrong on my part to eat it as it makes the hen suffer very much. i am still confused, being a pure vegetarian, can i eat eggs or not? Raksha.

By anon64519 — On Feb 07, 2010

Unfertilized chicken eggs will not become chickens shortly. If they are not fertilized, they will simply rot. This brings up an ethical question for some vegetarians (myself for one) as to whether you can be a vegetarian and still eat a product of an animal, even though it is not eating the animal flesh itself.

By sinefey — On Dec 27, 2009

I don't understand how a chicken egg, no matter what the hen is fed, can be considered "vegetarian" since the egg is in fact a chicken embryo, meaning it is a form of meat-or will be shortly.

I thought that vegetarian and meat were mutually exclusive.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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