More than just free range
Free-range, caged, barn eggs or organic? Egg labelling can be confusing and sometimes it’s hard to know what the difference is. In the UK we consume more than 12billion eggs a year – only 2% of these are organic whereas up to 47% of them come from free-range hens, 48% are produced by caged birds and the remaining eggs are produced from hens reared in barns.
No system of farming has higher animal welfare standards.
Organic chickens are raised to organic standards, which not only means free-range but a whole lot more. Organic standards cover not only the animals housing and the amount of space they have, but also the way they are treated, what they are fed and how they are transported and eventually slaughtered. They are not allowed to be fed on GM feed (which is common in free-range and non-organic hens). Chickens must not have their beaks trimmed to try and prevent feather pecking and are given plenty of opportunities to express their natural behaviours such as - foraging, bathing in the dust outside and pecking at insects and worms on grass fields.
What makes organic eggs different?
1. Truly free range with access to the outdoors
Organic poultry must have continuous and easy daytime access to an outdoor range covered with suitable vegetation, except in adverse weather conditions.
2. Higher standards of animal welfare
Beak tipping which is routinely performed on laying hens in the UK, (including EU organic systems), is prohibited under Soil Association standards. Beak trimming is a mutilation that can be painful, stressful and also prevents the hens from expressing their natural behaviour by foraging. We believe feather pecking can be solved by providing hens with a stimulating environment which allows birds to satisfy their natural behavioural needs.
Organic birds are provided with a large outdoor range and given plenty of opportunities to express their natural behaviours such as - foraging, ground scratching, and dust-bathing.
3. Organic chickens are kept in smaller flocks.
Soil Association certified organic laying hens are kept in smaller flocks with more space (max 2,000 vs 16,000 in free range systems). Poultry raised for meat must also be kept in small flocks – a maximum 1,000 birds. To put this in perspective, intensively-reared meat birds are commonly housed in groups of up to 30,000 in a shed!
Having fewer birds encourages better outdoor range use and makes it easier to manage bird welfare on an individual level, which helps to ensure the birds are kept to the highest standards of welfare.
4. Organic chickens are fed a GM-free diet.
In the UK alone over a million tonnes of GM crops are used in the UK to feed animals. This is banned by organic standards and organic birds are not fed on GM grain or feed (which is common in free-range and non-organic hens.
5. No routine use of antibiotics
The way we use antibiotics in intensive farming is undermining their ability to help treat infection and disease. 40% of all antibiotics in the UK are given to farm animals and intensively reared pigs & poultry account for 85-95% of UK farm antibiotic use.
The routine use of antibiotics is banned by organic standards. This means animals can’t be fed them as a preventative measure to stop them getting ill and instead they can only be used to treat animals if they do get ill. Because of the lower stocking densities and higher standards of animal welfare – organic animals need antibiotics far less frequently than their non-organic counter parts.
Organic Vs Free-range - what's the difference?
Standards have been set for organic and 'free range' eggs which stipulate among other things flock sizes, stocking densities and how many hens can share a nest. Organic standards go further than free range standards in a number of important ways.
Flock size and space
Soil Association organic standards specify a maximum flock size of 2,000 and under EU organic standards it's 3,000 hens.
There is no maximum flock size under free-range legislation. RSPCA assured standards set a maximum flock size of 16,000 hens.
The number of birds per square metre under organic standards is six birds per square metre and under free range standards is nine birds per square metre.
Soil Association standards give each hen 10 square metres of space outside and under EU organic standards and free range standards each hen has 4 square metres of space outside
All organic birds are on fed on a GM free diet, and additives like synthetic yolk colourants are prohibited. There are no requirements regarding GM feed for non-organic, free range hens.
Organic standards prohibit the routine use of antibiotics. The regular feeding of antibiotics to flocks of birds is a permitted practice in conventional rearing systems including free-range systems.
Is prohibited under Soil Association standards, routine beak trimming is permitted in conventional rearing systems.