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The behaviour and expectations of European consumers are moving towards greater concern for animal welfare. In France, 85% are against intensive livestock farming while in Germany 79% are in favour of special certification labels on that subject and are prepared to pay more for this (according to the Ernährungsreport 2018). This concern has accelerated the transition to alternatively farmed eggs. More and more people are looking for clear information about the food they consume and the conditions under which it was produced. These expectations demand changes all along the food service chain, from farmers to chefs who now need to communicate about their commitments.
Transitioning to organic / animal welfare: A user guide
It typically takes two years to convert a conventional farm to organic. The process involves providing a predefined space for laying hens, at a maximum density of 6 birds/m2 indoors, installing perches, setting up outdoor access, etc. In addition, organic farming has undergone changes recently after a new European regulation came into effect on 1 January 2022. The new developments applicable to egg production include the use of 100% organic feed (compared to the previous 95%), with 30% of that feed produced on site (up from 20%), a lower indoor density of chickens and outdoor access provided from a very young age.
That being said, not all farms are able to make the switch to free range or organic, namely because of the large spaces required by the specifications. Which is why various initiatives have emerged, like the “animal welfare Code 2” instituted by Cocotine in partnership with the NGO Welfarm.
Co-operatives supporting French farmers
In France, three-fourths of farmers are members of a co-operative, equal to roughly 300,000 producers belonging to 2,200 agricultural co-ops. In other words, co-ops have an important role to play in encouraging and guiding their members and the industry in the transition to alternatively farmed eggs. They have to be proactive in order to foster changes in practices and the response to societal demand. This drive has resulted in advice, technical support and guidance for producers. For example, Cocotine’s creation of the “animal welfare Code 2” aims to completely eliminate the caged farming of laying hens. This is a response to increasingly pressing demand from food service actors. In fact, this scheme combines the imperatives of price and the pursuit of animal welfare. It also pushes the industry to innovate and offer ever-better responses to the expectations and needs of institutional caterers.
Evolving food service actors
Many food service operators like distributors and institutional caterers have already publicised their intention of offering only alternatively farmed egg products. These actors include Elior, Transgourmet, Compass and Sodexo. In making this choice, they are responding to demand from both diners and food service professionals, more and more of whom are taking an interest in the origins and quality of the products they use, about which they need to communicate. Those companies’ commitment can only strengthen and bolster the efforts made by farmers and co-operatives to support and speed up the industry’s transition to alternatively farmed eggs.
The French industry had set itself a target of producing 50% alternatively farmed eggs by 2022, a figure that has been largely exceeded: two-thirds of the eggs produced nowadays are not Code 3, meaning they come from farms that are more respectful of animal welfare. In-ovo sexing will be performed during the early days of incubation to prevent the gassing or maceration of male chicks. Cocotine is proactively involved in legislative actions and already has test groups in place. There can be no doubt that societal expectations will only increase in the years to come, with those evolutions in demand affecting all food service actors, from farmers to institutional caterers.