So what should you look for when buying eggs? The number one thing to remember – don’t buy cage eggs! Cage eggs come from hens continuously confined in cages. Caged hens suffer miserably throughout their short lives – the RSPCA believes this is cruel and has sought to have the practice banned.
Until then, you should always check your egg cartons. Remember to read labels carefully – don’t buy into marketing spin. Terms like farm fresh, vegetarian, grain fed and corn fed are often used to imply higher welfare but aren’t necessarily so. If the housing system isn’t defined on the egg carton, then you can assume they are cage eggs. Vegetarian eggs come from hens that are fed a vegetarian diet but they can also be caged hens, so if animal welfare is a concern to you then look at the label closely.
You may have also noticed a new term marketing term in the egg aisle, cage-free eggs. These are essentially barn laid eggs. Hens in these systems aren’t kept in cages, but instead are free to roam in large sheds. All barns have nest boxes but not all barns have perches or litter (some barns have slats or wire-mesh flooring). Barn-laid eggs are a good alternative to cage eggs and a well-managed barn can be just as good for a hen as a proper free-range system, but it’s important to look for independent certification.
Free-range hens live in a barn but get access to the outdoors too. The RSPCA recommends only buying free-range eggs that are certified by a trusted body like the RSPCA (these have the RSPCA Paw of Approval on pack).
Because there is no nationally consistent or legally enforceable definition of the term free range, many eggs marketed as free-range are far from what consumers would expect. Certification means the production standards are publicly available so can be scrutinised by consumers.
So is buying eggs going to get easier? A quarter of Australians find food labeling extremely confusing and the RSPCA is working to encourage the government to clear up the mess. The RSPCA has also launched the “How do you like yours?” campaign encouraging consumers to look for the RSPCA Paw of Approval on pack. To find your nearest stockist of RSPCA Approved eggs visit rspcaapproved.org.au