Mathew Bose

Eggs are eggs right…? Part 3

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, on each store bought egg there is a Lion Brand Stamp. This means the egg is produced in a place that has vaccinated its hens against salmonella and also tells you something about the way the hen is being treated. Just to the right of the stamped Red Lion is a number, each indicating the farming method:

0 – organic
1 – free-range
2 – barn
3 – caged
In the last post we looked at the darkest of these – number 3. Please read that and further articles, of which there are many brilliant ones on the net, to fully comprehend that warning you off these isn’t just some hippy-dippy beaded protest, it’s a real and diabolical human travesty against hens that we must not be a part of. Please. I thank you…
So, what of the other ways of farming hens…? The RSPCA only cautions against ‘caged’ eggs. Everyone agrees that the caged system is grim, but the real controversy starts beyond those methods. The numbering system implies a better condition and better product as it counts down and the price counts up. BUT are they really that much better? Is there a clear winner in the short term and a long term solution? First let’s look at the other options beyond the caged system.
Number 2 refers to the ‘barn’ farmed hens and their eggs. Now, doesn’t the word ‘barn’ conjure up all sorts of homestyle images of the sun setting on wheat fields and idyllic country life? Ahh how nice! Well, not for the hens, of course, as it’s basically it’s a huge metal hangar (not so romantic now eh?) The British Egg Information Service ( says of barn hens:

The hen house conditions for barn hens are set by the EU Welfare of Laying Hens legislation and stipulate a maximum stocking density of 9 hens per square metre of useable area (which is still pretty crowded btw – MB). Hens must be provided with nest boxes. Adequate perches, providing 15 centimetres of perch per hen, must also be provided. Litter must be provided, accounting for one-third of the ground surface – this is used for scratching and dust bathing.

The RSPCA agree that this is generally ok and allow their Freedom Food logo to be used on these eggs but it’s hardly ‘freedom’ is it? Well, it’s definitely a step up from the cages and at least there can be some perching and dust bathing and the multi-tiered barns allow for some up and down flying too. However, critics say the birds are trampling about in their own waste products, stressed by overcrowding, disorientated by the artificial light and never take in a scrap of fresh air their whole lives. The birds are stuffed together and still fed continuously for maximum egg production so does the chance of spending a few moments on a 15cm perch really equate to adequate conditions for the hens and does it therefore make for good healthy hens and eggs?

Further to this, it seems that the next level of egg production, labelled ‘Free Range’ and stamped with the number 1, is only the barn version but with ‘access’ to outside space during the daylight hours. There’s a hitch here straight away. Hens are naturally not keen on going out into wide open spaces as they fear aerial predators. The British Lion Code legislation requires vegetation (ground) and outdoor shading or a veranda (for those Tennessee Williams style hens that want to sit rocking in a porch swing smoking a cheroot) but hens prefer overhead covering to their vegetation (so they can feel safe scratching about for insects and dust bathing) so they tend NOT to go out of the pitifully few and small portals (ironically called ‘pop-holes’) that are provided and remain in the barn…so essentially a barn hen with a bigger price tag. Are these eggs producers likely to create safe outside spaces for their hens? No, of course not, it wouldn’t be economically viable to them I suspect…right? And hens shouldn’t smoke anyway…naughty hens…

Critics further slam (‘slam’ is so tabloid isn’t it?!) these methods by pointing out that the hens spend an inordinate amount of time subsequently jostling with each other inside rather than risk the outside and continue to bully, and even cannibalise, each other (so often have part of their beak removed – not very ‘free’ range is it?) not to mention wading through their own waste products which can lead to ammonia burns. Hmmm…not so good huh?

The ‘Organic’ eggs stamped with the number 0 are the same as Free Range but with legislation governing the soil  and feed. Both these have to be certified as organic to meet the EU and British Lion Code standards. I think it’s telling that the organic standards are the EU stipulated ones (although be aware that many other countries in the EU have yet to comply with the EU laws governing caged hens so…) but the Lion Code people add a further stipulation, rather smugly I feel, ordering the ‘pop-holes’ for organic hens be larger. But this is admitting that the other hens are having to ‘pop’ through an inadequate hole isn’t it?! Oooh we’ve made their access to the outside world, fresh air, sunlight and chance to display natural habits (and the smoking veranda no doubt) bigger! Aren’t we just the nicest? Don’t you just love us now? And you don’t really mind us charging you more for that either do you? Ahhh thanks mugs…er…we mean, thanks lovely consumers…

Ok sarcasm is the lowest form of wit (but the hardest to master…) and I think you get the point. Is it a scam? Are we being jipped? Incidentally, I like the fact that the organic eggs pictured above say ‘eggs of different sizes’. Naturally hens lay different sized eggs and usually never the ‘large’ variety unless forced…the size (in this case) does not matter. Large eggs are only used in recipes as a failsafe and a medium, more naturally sized egg (at least for the hens ‘vent’ – don’t get a visual), is perfectly adequate. Think on…anyhoo I digress…

Also – farm shop eggs and farmer’s markets don’t have to be stamped as they operate outside the British Lion Code system so check with them that they are not just caged hens.

Only a small percent of eggs come from a barn or organic system in this country the majority being ‘colony’ ‘enriched cages’ and ‘free range’. Half the eggs produced in this country come from the caged systems. The supporters of ‘colony’ eggs (enriched cages) will talk of the better stability for the hen and that cages allow for their waste to be carried away and how they can control all the elements and create a consistent product, even boasting that the yolks are naturally coloured (from Maize) BUT isn’t it the unsettling nature of the system that means we should choose the eggs from the freer, less ‘treated’, less stressed hens? And some ‘experts’ argue that the nutritional value between caged soya etc fed hens and organic is marginal. But this is like eating fortified flour or cereals – the natural version of a vitamin is the best and a synthesised version is an isolated fake one that has MUCH less benefit. DO NOT be fooled! Vitamins and minerals work in groups and with a natural synergy, they depend upon each other in fact! I almost ‘shouted’ that last bit…I’m getting over excitable in my old age…

So you could argue that none of this is ideal. There is clearly room for improvement all round and in every system of egg production, but until that happens I’d say avoid caged hen products as much as possible, don’t you think? The price difference for better quality and more humanely produced eggs is around 25% more but even at this slightly higher price they are an excellent source of high quality protein (again, you get out of the egg what has been put into it…good or bad) and much cheaper than most other sources like meat – and worth it – especially as both the health of the hen and your health are at stake.

Mathew Bose

Eggs…part 1: good or bad…?

Go to work on an egg!!
That’s what the egg people told us for years and we did as we were bid, but then the tide turned and eggs got egg on their own faces for being suddenly unhealthy. To the eggstent (sorry) that when the industry applied to re-run the ads in 2007, to mark their 50th anniversary, the request was refused as it was deemed that eggs were not healthy. Fools. Of course, the tide has turned and now we can gorge on them…apparently. Well, at least until the pendulum swings back the other way and we are warned off them…again…
When Egg-Gate reigned and Eggwina Curry was causing a scandal, eggs became vilified as evil purveyors of disease and cholesterol and the word on the street was even rubbing up against one by accident might kill you one way or another. Salmonella is rare now and time and studies have shown that the negative claims about cholesterol are not, in truth, er…true. Waves of attitude and decisions ricochette off the back of a breaking news story and eggs have never quite recovered in some ways and the UK is still the lowest consumer of them in Europe. Salmonella aside, people still think of cholesterol as a deadly enemy…but by now you must be on to the whole good and bad cholesterol thing, right? Right?!?
Okay, just in case, here’s the deal…basically there are two types: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). One has been labelled good (HDL) the other bad (LDL). Not the best terms, or easiest to remember, but they serve a purpose. So Bad is in animal fats and animal products (that’s why eggs got tarred with the same brush) and good from plant sources like avocado and nuts. Bad, naughty LDL has the function of carrying cholesterol to the cells for its vital purpose but when there’s too much and it cannot find a taker, it just dumps it in the arteries (like a flyer distributor just junking the flyers in a lay-by). You NEED the good as it is not only part of the structure of every cell in your body, but it synthesises vitamin D, heals you, protects your nerves, helps your brain work and carries fat away from the liver etc. AND most importantly carries stray deposited LDL out of the blood stream and back to the liver to be recycled. Ok, so it’s now accepted that eggs are good cholesterol and so hoorah! Let’s hear it for eggs…!
Apart from this whole eggs are a complete protein (sometimes referred to as a high quality protein). This means they contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs to build, repair and sustain and subsequently recommended for all age groups. They are low calorie and yet one of the single best sources of complete protein that exist. They also contain loads of vitamins (especially B5, B12, B2, E and D) and minerals (especially harder to get ‘trace’ ones like selenium, iodine and molybdenum). It is regarded as one of the best sources of a vitamin grouped into the B complex called choline (essential from brain development and function and protection of the liver). However, research shows that a hen fed on decent natural foods (hens are naturally omnivores and this range of food directly affects the eggs) can produce eggs with nearly 200% more high quality vitamins like E and D than a caged bird. Similarly, the yolk has beneficially omega-3 fatty acids but, again, only if the hen has been fed properly as…and this will be a almost tedious reoccurring theme…the egg is only as healthy as the food the hen has been fed. This is utterly key to the entire subject of the health benefits of eggs, so pay attention throughout please!! So, they are healthy and will keep you fuller for longer as well so we perhaps should return to the old , seemingly very sound , advice and go to work on an egg…but crucially the right kind of egg…
There are a zillion websites expounding at great length regarding the health benefits of eggs so I’ll leave you to have a look at those because I really want to concern this set of posts with the nitty gritty of working out how to find a decent egg!
All is not as straight forward in the world of eggs as we might hope (when is it ever these days?!?) So how do we know a good egg from a rotten egg? How can we be sure the egg is a good quality product from a carefree and jolly hen? The subject is messy though (a right scramble) it’s part nutrition, part ethical and more besides – throw in a silly politician and a few layers of what could be labelled as ‘deceit’ and we have a right good mystery, no? So it’s on with Miss Marple’s felt Garbo hat and time to find out what’s really going on…
The real nub of this wrangle is the quality of the eggs and more specifically where they come from. Before any smartypants retort with ‘out of it’s____!!’, I’ll say I know it is ‘laid’ out it its ‘vent’ and how and why, but the point is what journey has that egg been on, and how has the hen been treated. The better the journey the better the nutrients in the egg. And as a perfect egg is clearly a perfect form of protein, keeps you fuller longer and has just about every key vitamin and mineral encased in them, surely  it is rather important isn’t it to know the true bigger picture?
See part 2…