Eggs – how much space do the girls get?

Do you want to know the difference between the eggs systems?

I refer to systems as the defined egg production standards:

  • UK Organic soil association
  • EU and UK Organic standards
  • EU and UK Free range standards
  • EU and UK barn standards
  • EU and UK caged (enriched)

In addition to these standard there are assured schemes e.g. RSPCA and producers that define their own standards that are over and above the UK and EU standards. This can be significant or minimal so don’t just buy eggs because they have a standard labelled or fancy packaging. Any brand worth you spending extra money on, will be proud to promote their standards on their website, http://www.thetraditionalfreerangeeggcompany.co.uk if they don’t then it is marketing gloss and they don’t really have anything to say.

It is hard to work out the difference between the systems. Most of us agree that caging hens is not acceptable but it is hard to decide what is acceptable. There is a very dark side to the egg industry, it is mass production under huge cost pressure, so within each system there is a lot of variance. I have attempted to do a 5 yrs old impression of the space each bird gets and flock sizes to help give some meaning behind the labels. The figures are based on EU and UK standards and the UK Organic soil association.

The flock size is also an important consideration. The only defined maximum size is in Organic systems. Free range, barn and caged is undefined. It is hard to find typical sizes but I have found people promoting their flocks of e.g 12,000 and 16,000 as a smaller flock size and evidence of flocks as large as 32,000. This often achieved by multi tier system, shelves in effect, this means the area of ‘floor’ space is increased allowing them to house more birds in a building. It is really a loop hole in the law which states 9 birds per m2 floor space. In effect by having the floor and 3 tiers they have 4X the amount of intended birds in a space, this means that a lot of the birds never get outside, they are too hemmed in.

In caged colonies I have found information of buildings housing 150,000 caged birds, which is beyond my comprehension. If you like to think of the hen that lays your egg getting individual attention, you get the picture.

In contrast we have 3 birds that free range 2.5 acres but that won’t fit on the page! The majority of us have to buy eggs that are available in the supermarkets, look for organic eggs, I believe the difference is worth the extra cost, but if you want to go the ‘whole hog’ I will write a post about keeping hens and try to find producers that sell ‘real eggs’. In the mean time if you find a friend that has their own eggs it is worth expressing your interest in buying some.

Whatever you take from this post, I remain firm that anything is better than caged ‘enriched’ eggs. Read my other posts about 48% of UK eggs still coming from caged hen eggs. Think about ingredients and eggs served in cafes, restaurants, airlines etc. As Zammo said ‘just say NO’.

The Ethical omnivore and the girls

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