Britons are buying record numbers of Free Range, Barn and Organic Eggs. Research shows shoppers bought 2.04billion of them last year, up from 1.64billion in 2002 (Article from the Daily Mail - 09/08/2006).
The Benefits of Eating Eggs
Eggs are low in calories and could actually protect against heart disease, breast cancer and eye problems and even help you to lose weight. Eggs are actually good for you. They are rich in nutrients, one egg provides 13 essential nutrients, all in the yolk (egg whites contain albumen, an important source of protein, and no fat). You should keep eggs in the fridge in their box and eat them by the use-by date.
We now know the benefits of eating eggs but does the welfare of the chickens matter? Davinos Greeno investigates the eggy world of production systems.
Eggs are produced in 3 types of production systems.
1)Laying Cage System. Laying cages are the most common method of commercial egg production in the UK - representing around 66% of eggs produced in 2004. Typically a laying cage system consists of a series of at least three tiers of cages. The cages have sloping mesh floors so that the eggs roll forward out of the reach of the birds to await collection. Droppings pass through the mesh floors onto boards, belts, the floors of the house or into a pit to await removal.
2) Barn system. Around 7% of eggs sold in the UK are produced in the barn system. In the barn system the hen house has a series of perches and feeders at different levels. In the deep litter system the birds are kept in hen houses in which all the floor area should be solid with a litter of straw, wood shavings, sand or turf.
3) Free range system. The free range system accounts for around 27% of eggs produced in the UK. And the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive stipulate that for eggs to be termed free range, hens must have continuous daytime access to runs which are mainly covered with vegetation and with a maximum stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare. The demand for free-range eggs is also growing by 10 per cent a year. Somerfield will be the first supermarket in the country to switch to selling French free-range eggs. Tesco is also understood to be lining up suppliers on the Continent if it is not able to guarantee supplies at home due to this rising demand. The cost of opening a free-range unit can be as much as £500,000.
How can you be sure about the welfare of the bird that produced the egg on your plate? The simple answer is that you can be pretty sure that an organic label indicates a different world for the birds compared to the nightmare conditions present in the industrial levels of the Laying Cage System. Beyond this lies degrees of acceptability with the soil association mark being one of the best indications of high animal welfare.
Hens producing organic eggs are always free range. In addition, hens must be fed an organically produced diet and ranged on organic land. Organic eggs are produced in the UK according to criteria set by the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS) – which sets basic standards for organic production in the UK, in line with EU legislation. Due to the lack of artificial colouring in the animal feed you may well notice that organic eggs are somewhat paler than others. Organic eggs are also more expensive when compared to eggs farmed intensively, but the difference in taste is recognised by most people.
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