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Alternatively farmed eggs are getting popular with more and more consumers, including institutional catering and restaurant diners. Considerations relating to health, the environment and animal welfare continue to grow in importance. This change is the result of a long-term shift in attitudes, that has been reinforced by better knowledge of production methods thanks to the codes established by the European Commission in 2002. The effect is that diners are looking for alternatively farmed eggs and egg products so they can consume fewer caged (Code 3) eggs.
Changing consumer expectations
About a third of people in the United Kingdom, Germany and France say they are flexitarians, and, for 84% of the French, “caged chicken farming is one of the worst livestock practices, and it needs to stop”. The concern for protecting animal welfare is getting stronger and stronger, due to the evolution of our society today. More and more of the French and their European neighbours are campaigning for more sustainable agriculture. In a clear sign that these expectations are being expressed by institutional catering diners, major food service actors (like Sodexo, Transgourmet, Elior and others) are looking to exclusively source egg products made from alternatively farmed eggs.
What has the response been in terms of regulations?
Public authorities, especially in the EU, have instituted precise regulations regarding farming conditions and product designations. In the late 1990s, Directive 1999/74/EC stipulated that battery cage farming would be prohibited after a 13-year transitional period. The replacement of battery cages with “enriched cages” slightly improved the hens’ living conditions, with more space available to the birds and a few arrangements to allow them to engage in natural behaviours. This was followed by Directive 2002/4/EC, which instituted codes for the different farming conditions, providing better information to consumers. That directive led to substantial awareness-raising.
In France, the EGAlim law, which has been in effect since 1 January 2022, includes a section on animal welfare. This adaptation into legislation was chiefly driven by the actions of associations working in this field.
In the United Kingdom, the Animal Welfare Sentience Act, in effect since 2022, recognises the sentience of animals and their ability to feel emotions (and therefore their ability to suffer).
In Germany, a programme with a billion euro budget for four years (2023-2026) has been established to improve animal welfare. Based on work by the Borchert Commission on livestock farming, that plan will help farmers develop good practices while assisting them with the necessary adjustments.
Alternatively farmed and organic eggs: A necessity for animal welfare
Labelling is important when it comes to ensuring the quality of the egg production process. The code stamped on eggs (ranging from 3 for caged eggs to 0 for organic eggs) is an important marker for identifying the conditions under which the eggs were laid. For example, Code 3 means that the hens have very little space (18/m2) and no outdoor access. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hens that lay organic eggs are limited to 6/m2 inside the buildings and have 4 m2 apiece outside, in addition to receiving 100% organic feed. Initiatives like the one launched by Cocotine (with the “Code 2 animal welfare” range developed in partnership with the NGO Welfarm) further help to improve farming conditions, with commitments by the farmers, especially thanks to our co-operative structure, and a concrete response to societal demand for higher standards and greater transparency. This range is also the best possible compromise between affordable prices for institutional caterers, animal welfare considerations and encouragement of the industry to develop and improve.
With their newfound sensitivity to the conditions under which their food is produced, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with protecting animal welfare. Regulatory mechanisms have responded to these emerging expectations and even amplified them by offering better information to the general public. And demand for alternatively farmed eggs, including the egg products served by institutional caterers, is steadily rising.