Aussies love eggs and each year we consume millions of them. They’re delicious, nutritious and can be used and enjoyed in so many different ways. But how many of us have given any thought to where our eggs have come from and if the nutrition from one egg to another differs?
Discover here what the different labels on egg cartons mean so you finally understand what you’re really buying!
UNDERSTANDING LABELS ON EGG CARTONS
The public’s concern about animal welfare is growing. With consumer affair shows such as Today Tonight airing controversial undercover investigations and retailers such as Coles phasing out the sale of cage eggs, chicken welfare and subsequently egg quality are 2 factors influencing our purchasing decision of eggs. In addition, with so many labels emerging, shopping for eggs is becoming confusing for many.
Conventional/ Traditional Cage Eggs
In Australia, caged eggs come from the 10.5 million caged hens in battery farms meaning that over 90% of the eggs sold in Australia are from caged hens.
A single battery farm can contain thousands of battery hens, stacked in cages five rows high in enclosed sheds. Each cage holds 3 to 7 hens. Each hen’s floor area is only 450 cm squared, about 3/4 of the size of an A4 sheet of paper. (Seriously, grab a piece of A4 paper and imagine living like that.)
A battery hen spends her entire life laying cramped inside a shared cage. She will never see the sky. With her wings outstretched, a hen is twice the size of a typical battery cage.
You just need to do a google search for ‘cage eggs’ and some very disturbing images will display.
NOTE: The term ‘Cage-free’ is also regularly used but it is important to note that these hens are raised in barns and do not have access to the outdoors.
In 2012, the EU banned cage hens; Australia is yet to do so.
Hens in barn laid housing systems are not confined in cages so in theory they can move around, technically making barn laid eggs slightly more humane than cage eggs.
The hens aren’t kept in cages but instead are free to roam in large sheds. All barns have nest boxes but not all barns have perches or litter (some barns have slats or wire-mesh flooring).
RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards require that the hens in a barn-laid production system are provided with space for perching and litter for scratching and dust-bathing.
However, high stocking densities restrict hens’ ability to move freely and exercise. Being confined indoors restricts hens’ ability to perform the normal behaviours that provide quality of life.
Essentially, cage-free eggs will be labelled as barn-laid eggs.
Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term free range in Australia so standards between free range egg farms can vary dramatically. The biggest difference between free range farms is the number of birds kept in a certain space.
While 1,500 birds per hectare is the recommended maximum, this is not enforceable or legislated and large scale producers are keeping their hens at much higher densities to cash in on the growing market for free range products.
If you want to see how much the free range standards vary from producer to producer, go here:
These logos on the egg carton indicate the eggs have come from hens raised on a true free range farm.
* Note: The RSPCA logo alone does not guarantee free range — you may also find the RSPCA logo on barn-laid eggs (see below). Only cartons that are also labelled ‘free range’ contain RSPCA approved eggs from a true free range system.
Organic foods are grown and produced without the use of synthetic chemicals and fertilisers. Production has a strict focus on environmental sustainability, animal welfare and protecting the habitats of native animals.
Organic animal products all come from free-range animals, that have access to pastures and pesticide-free food for their whole lives. So, in a way, organic, free range, green and eco all overlap.
Certified organic eggs come from hens kept on farms which meet and exceed standards of the best free range facilities. However, simply the word ‘organic’ on an egg carton can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of hens meets certified organic standards — when it may merely mean that hens in barns are fed organic grains.
These logos on the egg carton indicate that the hens are raised on a certified organic farm.
The RSPCA Approved system accredits egg farms to RSPCA standards. Barn laid eggs can be RSPCA Approved, therefore not all RSPCA Approved hens have access to an outdoor are
Other Claims On Egg Cartons
There are many other marketing terms used on egg cartons to imply higher welfare. These labels should be read discerningly.
Terms such as ‘Vegetarian’, ‘Eco eggs’ and ‘Omega 3 eggs’ for example are not recognised descriptors that define the type of housing system or a level of welfare for hens.
These are produced by giving hens feed that contains a higher proportion of omega-3 and vitamin E, often from the inclusion of flax seeds, soya bean and canola. This contributes to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids in the egg yolk. Note however, that the feed given to the chickens will not be organic and may contain GMO’s.
Vegetarian eggs are produced from hens that are fed a diet that does not contain any ingredient sourced from either meat or fish. Typically the feed consists of ingredients such as wheat, alfalfa, sunflower seeds and corn. Vegetarian eggs can only be sourced from barn or cage systems, not free-range. One thing to note when buying these types of eggs is that typically all chicken feed is vegetarian. Note again, that the feed given to the chickens will not be organic and may contain GMO’s.
Likewise, don’t be fooled by clever imagery — some cartons may depict birds sitting on nests, or green rolling fields, but unless accompanied by an accreditation label, these images are most likely to be inaccurate.
An American organisation, Mother Earth News, conducted independent testing to determine whether or not their was a difference in nutrition between conventional (cage) eggs and free range eggs. They tested the eggs from 14 different farms and the results were remarkable.
The results varied from farm to farm, but the average free range egg results (when compared against a cage egg) showed:
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 21 times more omega-3 fatty acid
Now whilst these tests weren’t done in Australia with Australian eggs, I do believe the results would be similar. (If you have any data to support this either way, send it our way please!)
We want to hear from you! Tell us if you are prepared to pay extra for organic or free range eggs .