Geoff and I are on a quest to choose higher welfare eggs. This is what we found out:
- avoid the cage
- think like a chicken
- choose certified.
Avoid the cageWe avoid eggs laid by hens in cages. That bit is easy!
Think like a chickenChickens have natural behaviours, such as dust bathing, perching, stretching and flapping their wings and laying their eggs in private. Some choices may mean they are not able to use these behaviours or fulfill these natural instincts.
They naturally like to be free range… but we found there is more to it!
Choose certifiedWe found there is no legal definition of the term ‘free-range’ in Western Australia, so standards can vary dramatically.
Choose certified free range, organic, bio-dynamic or barn laid eggs, so you will be sure what you are buying. These eggs are produced with no more than 1,500 hens per hectare (or no more than 2,500 hens per hectare in some circumstances).
The stocking densities could be a lot higher if the eggs are not certified (e.g. 20,000 hens per hectare!). We looked into this further - Choice has a campaign for better labelling.
Some local uncertified egg farms have sold cage eggs in free range egg cartons and they are being investigated by the ACCC1. We used to buy these “free range” eggs because they were local - but now we know better.
The word ‘organic’ on an egg carton can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of hens meets certified organic standards - when it may only mean that hens in barns are fed organic grains. We are now really careful to avoid being misled and always check the certification.
Advice from Choice Magazine: “If you want to ensure that the free range eggs you buy meet your expectations:
- look for certification logos and inform yourself about the free range standards behind the certifying bodies”… and
- “check the packaging or producer websites of the eggs you buy for information about their standards.” 2
Where can I find further information?Choice explains the issues here.
The requirements of the certifying bodies are summarised by:
- Setting the standards (Choice) and Free range eggs (both Choice articles).
- Free range egg and chicken guide (a Sustainable Table article)
- Make it Possible:Egg labels (an Animals Australia article)
ConclusionWe avoid the cage, think like a chicken and choose certified to ensure we are buying higher welfare eggs. We are going to do this whenever we buy eggs.
Now stay tuned for news on our Urban Chicken Network. Another way to find higher welfare eggs is to care for the chickens at home - and they can use our food scraps too!
Notes1 A recent example is the Swan Valley Egg Farm (Snowdale Holdings), which is not accredited and is being investigated by the ACCC. They also own Eggs by Ellah. See Swan Valley Egg Farm, ACCC Institutes proceedings against free range egg producers and ACCC crackdown on free range egg definition.
2 Choice 2014, Free range eggs. Cited on 27 August 2014. Certified free range and barn laid eggs from Golden Egg Farms, Sunny Queen, McLean's Run (owned by Sunny Queen), Pace and Kalbarri Eggs were ruled out because they also sell cage eggs. See Shop Ethical! and the Egg Corporation.