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, 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








Have you checked your cupboards?

Our focus for January is caged hens eggs. With 48% of eggs produced in the UK coming from caged hens, we question who is still buying them? The sad truth is that most of us are. Until I started researching into this that included me! I never thought about croissants, ice cream, deserts, sauces, pasta, sponge cake, or even when I picked up an egg mayonnaise sandwich (thinking it was a good non-meat choice).

Read the label and there it is shock horror – egg (15%), egg white (3%) etc. – this is caged hen eggs used as ingredients. When we eat out, how many of us ask the waitress if the soufflé or the bearnaise sauce is made using free range egg?

Read labels, ask in the cafe, check the ingredients list when you do online shopping. You will quickly get used to what brands and products contain free range rather than caged eggs. Remember if it doesn’t state free range it is most likely a caged hen egg. By law boxed (shell) eggs have to be labelled as caged hen eggs but this does not apply to eggs used as ingredients.

I’ve done a mini comparison of everyday goods from our leading supermarkets and a brand equivalent to help demonstrate some issues:

The clear message is that this is not a cost issue, the use of free range egg relates to our perception and expectation. The producers copy each other, Hellman’s mayonnaise moved to using free range eggs and made it very public, so lots of producers of mayonnaise did the same. Mayonnaise is a low value product but because the public expectation is for free range eggs they use free range eggs.

Fresh pasta is another story. Weight for weight fresh pasta is more than double the price of dried pasta, some even have it made in Italy so they can label it ‘authentic’, BUT then still use caged hens eggs because that is the industry standard and we don’t seem to notice.

Mary Berry shame on you! I thought you were such a lovely lady and made such lovely cakes. The cake reviews are terrible which isn’t a surprise, any real baker knows that a great cake start with good quality eggs. I always smile when I crack my chickens eggs into the flour and marvel at the naturally strong yellow colour they add.

Thanks for reading

The ethivore girls (my hens!)








Caged hens eggs – a focus for January

This one is for the girls, for the hens, for Bluebell my first ever chicken (pictured)

If you are new to being an Ethical omnivore it helps to focus on one thing at a time or make small regular changes rather than try to tackle it all at once.

Starting January 2018 let’s focus on eggs. 48% of eggs produced in the UK are still from colony caged hens, that is a huge problem for hens and far from ideal for human health issues.

Colony (also called enriched) caged hens eggs are unethical. The hen is locked in cages for the whole of their life unable to perform natural behaviours all for the sake of laying 1 egg per day. Saving you from 0p-6p-15p per egg (based on supermarket value v free range eggs and value v organic). Sometimes there is no difference in price depending on the brand.

Have you ever met a chicken? They are wonderful, intelligent, sensitive animals. They are highly active in a truely free range environment, spending all day roaming peaking and scratching for food, running, flapping their wings, dust bathing. They learn to come when they are called within days (a lot more than can be said for most people’s dogs).

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Check your boxed eggs – boxed eggs have to be labelled as caged, free range, organic etc. they are stamped with a code. Only buy free range and ideally organic.
  2. Check eggs in products (cakes, pasta, custard, mayo, quiche etc) – Manufacturers are choosing to state where they are free range. If it doesn’t say free range it isn’t.
  3. Ask if eggs are free range when you eat out or in the cafe. Don’t be afraid to raise it and be prepared to skip the eggs if they are from caged hens. Take your custom elsewhere.

The egg industry in general has a lot of negatives. The males chicks are killed as they are hatched, surplus to requirements. The hens are slaughtered as soon as their production drops off (around 72 weeks). Even free range systems are not ideal, but avoiding caged hen eggs goes a long way to addressing the problem. It would make a huge difference to hens lives if everyone turned their beaks up at the junk egg that is the caged hen egg.

The ultimate is to keep your own chickens or buy from local chicken keepers if you can. If time and space allows they make great pets. We choose to only eat our own chickens eggs and keep our chickens into old age. I realise this is a luxury but that is my personal approach to the egg dilemma.

Some supermarkets (e.g Waitrose are caged egg free). This means that they don’t sell any caged hen eggs boxed or in their products.

Cluck cluck!

The Ethical omnivore.


Quails – small egg, big problems

Most of us don’t buy quail eggs on our weekly shop, but the topic of the quail eggs is a perfect example of our perceptions and how massive welfare issues can go unnoticed. Quail eggs look cute, they are exotic, seen as a luxury items, an image of a wild bird, often served in fancy restaurants as part of artwork on the plate.

Annually 1.4M are farmed for meat and 400,000 for eggs. 90% are intensively farmed. Think battery hens and banned barren cages, think worse, quails are not protected by any species specific EU legislation, containing them in wires cages, allocating no more space than the size of a beer mat per bird is legal.


Quail are the smallest animal to be intensively farmed, they are sensitive, nervous birds that naturally seek shelter amongst undergrowth, eating seeds and insects. They have strong migratory instincts.

UK supermarkets appear to be aware of the issue, many now selling the industry standard for higher welfare labelled ‘free-to-fly’. The same applies to all eggs if it doesn’t say free range, or free-to-fly it is from a caged bird. With 90% of eggs coming from caged quails someone is eating them, be careful it is not you

Example ‘free-to-fly’ brands available in supermarkets:

  • are a leading brand is higher welfare, luxury eggs e.g. Waitrose, Ocado, Sainsbury’s
  • e.g. Ocado

In summary, quails eggs are something I can live without, but if you can’t then make sure you buy quails eggs that are labelled ‘free-to-fly’ to support these businesses, ask in the restaurant or at catered events if the egg is from a caged bird, sadly I suspect the majority will be.

Price wise, I found ‘free-to-fly’ quail eggs to be the same price or cheaper then the caged eggs for sale e.g. caged quail eggs from

Why ‘free-to-fly’ and not free range? Quail don’t roost meaning they don’t go to bed, they can’t be kept in fully free range systems as they would fly away and not come back. Therefore they are kept in aviaries, sometimes with outdoor access and sometimes barn systems.




Gu desserts – no GuD for hens

Gu desserts is a luxury brand with an annual turnover of around £25M. Their individually packaged desserts for two people cost around £3.00 (between £15 – £25 per kg). This is between 1.5 and 3 times the cost of equivilent premium brand desserts (Tesco Finest / Waitrose).

For comparison (FR eggs = Free range eggs):

  • Chocolate melt middles – Gu = £1.50  / Tesco = £0.74 / Waitrose (FR egg) = £1.11 (per KG)
  • Lemon cheesecake – Gu = £1.90 / Tesco = £0.55 / Waitrose = £0.67 (FR eggs) (per KG)
  • NY cheesecake – Gu = £1.93 / Tesco = £1.53 (FR eggs) / Waitrose = £1.23 (FR eggs) (per KG)

A luxury product, slick packaging, high cost, I would expect top notch ingredients? Sadly not. I contacted Gu to confirm that their desserts were not made with free range eggs. Despite their wordy reply about their moral conscience as a company and promotion of their great tasting desserts the long and short was that they do not use free range eggs in their desserts. They advised that they use barn eggs and claimed this was due to a lack of availability of free range eggs.

I questioned this further on the basis that barn eggs makes up a mere 1.2% of egg production in the UK versus 48% from free range eggs I got a second similarly lengthy yet contentless reply adding that it was a cost decision. I hoped to find something to persuade me not to find fault in these facts but I kept coming back to the same conclusion. They sell the most expensive desserts on our supermarkets shelves and yet they are penny pinching on ingredients, hoping that none of us would notice or care?

When we buy a product and support a brand we are voting for what we think is acceptable. Read the labels and place the right vote. Brands that lead the way and don’t wait for consumer pressure get my vote every time.

Gu is owned by Noble foods, acquired in 2009 for an estimated £35M. Noble foods is the UK largest egg producer, handling over 60 million eggs per week.