Food & Drinks

The good egg guide: what makes a good egg?

With so many choices, what do those labels mean for the chicken and the egg?

By Holly Royce and Yours Staff
Australians consume 15 million eggs a day and, for many, the choice of brand is now a very confusing shopping experience.
With more consideration for animal welfare in recent times, free-range egg consumption has increased to more than 40 per cent of total egg sales, while caged eggs are now taking up less and less space on supermarket shelves.
What the experts say, however, is that not all labels are created equal. With advertisers keen to make use of all the space on the carton, all sorts of marketing terms are wheeled out alongside the imagery of rolling fields – but without an accreditation label, these often have little bearing on the welfare of the flocks.
Thankfully, "free-range" labels will soon all fall into line, with the state governments agreeing on a national standard that's currently being phased in and will be enforced by law by Easter next year.
It will mean hens have "meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range" and an outdoor "stocking density" of up to 10,000 birds per hectare, with the exact number to be labelled right there on the pack.
So what are we to make of all the confusion until then?
We lift the lid on the lingo to get the lay of the land.

What are caged eggs?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are nine million hens kept in battery cages for their entire egg-laying lives.
The birds live in a cage alongside several other hens, each with access to a space equivalent to an A4 sheet of paper.
"They're unable to exhibit any of their natural behaviours, like flapping their wings, perching, dust-bathing or laying their eggs in a nest," says RSPCA Australia Humane Food Marketing Manager Hope Bertram.

What are free range eggs?

This can widely range from 1500 to 10,000 birds per hectare, with hens given access to an outdoor area by day.
At night they're kept in sheds or barns to keep them safe from predators. As of Easter 2018, it will be law for "free-range"-labelled egg farms to give hens 1sq m of space each, with 10,000 hens/ha.
"Conditions on free-range farms vary greatly," Hope says.
"On some, the range area is large, the hens have access to shade and shelter, and all are able to come and go from the range by day; on others the range area is small, bare and hard for hens to get to."

What are cage-free & barn eggs?

"Essentially, cage-free eggs are barn-laid eggs," Hope says.
"Hens are not kept in cages but instead are able to move throughout large sheds. All barns have nest boxes, but not all barns have perches or litter (some have slats or wire-mesh flooring)."
Stocking densities will vary from farm to farm, so it's best to check the number on the packaging.

What are hormone & antibiotic-free eggs?

This can be a misleading form of marketing.
According to Eggs Australia, hormones are not used in the egg industry and there is a very low use of antibiotics.

What are omega-3 eggs ?

Fish-oil and seed-oil supplements are added at very low levels to the hens' diet so the eggs contain increased levels of omega-3.
Unless otherwise stated on the label, these may be caged eggs.

What are farm fresh eggs?

This is a meangingless label.
Farm fresh is not a legally-defined term, and may relate to cage eggs; it's not a welfare term," Hope says.

Organic

The use of the word "organic" can vary, so for the eggs to fully meet these standards, the carton must be accompanied by a clearly visible accreditation logo.
"Certified eggs mean the hens are not in contact with any "synthetic chemicals, including synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, hormones and antibiotics," Hope says. "It usually includes access to the outdoors (free-range), but the exact standards of this can vary."

RSPCA-Approved

"The RSPCA approves certain barn and free-range housing systems," Hope explains. "We allow up to 2500 hens on a rotational range."
It does not permit cage eggs but allows beak trimming, "if the producer, in consultation with the RSPCA assessor, considers that it is required to avoid pecking injuries or cannibalism outbreaks".

Biodynamic

This fancy term is similar to certified organic, but goes one step further.
In simple layman's terms, this really only means the farm is relatively self-sustaining, and has a minimal impact on the wider environment.

Confused? Try the CluckAR app (free for Android and iOS)

Created by Choice, this app lets users scan an egg carton to see information about the producer's stocking density, along with an instant rating.
It also states whether the product meets the CSIRO's Model Code's standard range eggs (stocking density no more than 1500 hens/ha), is certified by the RSPCA, Humane Choice or Australian Certified Organic.