For many years, consumers have become accustomed to the idea that when it comes to eggs, ‘brown are best’. But why? Results of a survey into the habits and preferences of 1700 chicken-keepers interviewed by the British Hen Welfare Trust, revealed that 85% of respondents don’t actually mind what colour their eggs are. Indeed, 95% said the colour made no difference at all to taste, and a mere 13% expressed a preference for brown eggs.
So why do consumers demand brown eggs?
The reason why free-range hens can sometimes lay pale shelled eggs is not fully understood, but one theory suggests that it is linked to a hen’s exposure to strong sunlight. Whilst white eggs are commonplace overseas, they are deemed to be ‘substandard’ by the UK food industry, and end up being downgraded, resulting in financial loss for free-range egg farmers. According to The BHWT survey, the taste is unaffected and pale eggs are not an issue. Retailers take note!
The national survey also revealed that over 81% of respondents read food labelling on processed food products, and a staggering 98% want to see improved labelling specifying country of origin and production method used. When eating out, 95% of people said it mattered to them to know if the food they were tucking into contained eggs from caged hens, and whilst not everyone would feel comfortable asking about the provenance of the eggs every time, a whopping 98% said it would support establishments that used British free range eggs.
The British Hen Welfare Trust, which headed up the survey, is a national charity that re-homes commercial laying hens, educates the public about how they can make a difference to hen welfare, and encourages support for the British egg industry. The survey explored all aspects of hen-keeping, from feeding and laying habits to predation and veterinary care. But it was the response to buying and eating habits that most surprised the charity’s Founder, Jane Howorth: “It is wonderful to know that hen-keepers across the country are real ambassadors for free-range eggs – not just in their own back yard, but in shops and restaurants too. And these people are spreading the word amongst friends, family and neighbours about the importance of insisting on free-range eggs, not just in shell eggs, but in all the food we buy containing egg products."
In fact it is estimated that in the UK, 60% of eggs produced by caged hens are consumed in the form of every day processed food, such as mayonnaise, cakes, pancakes, pasta, ready meals, quiche, ice-cream and confectionary.
Of the three billion eggs that are processed every year (taken out of their shells and sold as liquid egg in the food industry), around 80% are being used by processed food manufacturers, and the remaining 20% end up in the food service sector - restaurants, pubs, takeaways etc. Approximately one billion of these eggs are currently imported from overseas.
As new measures come into force from January 2012 that will make barren (battery) cages illegal in the EU, egg farmers will be obliged to replace them with ‘enriched cages’ which house up to 90 birds. British farmers are ready for this change – but many countries will not be ready, and there is a risk that illegal caged eggs from non-compliant countries will still be imported, putting British farmers at a disadvantage.
Jane Howorth said: “We don’t consider the enriched cage to be as high welfare as free range and organic systems. However, it is an improvement over the current battery cage system and we would rather people buy British eggs rather than imported battery eggs from outside the EU where welfare is out of our control."
She concluded: “Whilst the survey we carried out was amongst hen-keepers, we are very encouraged by the general findings. As more and more people become aware about the use of eggs as ingredients in processed foods, and insist on higher welfare, this can only be good news for the British free range egg industry. And of course the hens that provide the food on our table in the first place."
The British Hen Welfare Trust is a national charity that re-homes commercial laying hens, educates the public about how they can make a difference to hen welfare, and encourages support for the British egg industry. Its ultimate aim is to see consumers and food manufacturers buying only UK produced free range eggs, resulting in a strong British egg industry where all commercial laying hens enjoy a good quality life.
To find out more or to support the work of the British Hen Welfare Trust please email email@example.com, log on to www.bhwt.org.uk
or tel: 01769 580310Jane Howorth, Founder of British Hen Welfare Trust