We stand in front of the eggs in the supermarket and we are faced with a decision. There are caged eggs, barn eggs, free range eggs and organic eggs. which ones do we take home?
Do we consider the price only or do we think about how the hens are housed in our decision on which eggs to buy?
For many now that decision is not so much about the price anymore, as we are quite prepared to pay a little extra so that the hens laying our eggs have room to run around and scratch in the dirt and not spend all day in a small cage with little space to spread their wings or walk around.
At least the images we get through the media show that the hens producing caged eggs are held in small cages which do not allow for the natural movements and behaviours of the hens and so are not humane.
Barn eggs are from hens which are usually kept in sheds and have space to move around and scratch. Free range hens are allowed outside and there is a set number per hectare. Organic eggs are produced on farms which meet organic standards.
So which is better – caged, barn, free range or organic?
Well here’s something else to consider in that purchase decision. There is a species of Salmonella which can develop in the egg when it is being formed inside the hen. If this egg is then not fully cooked or is used in raw egg products like mayonnaise and aioli, this species of Salmonella can survive and potentially make people, particularly those in the High Risk Groups, ill.
So what has this got to do with the whole caged vs all other type of eggs debate?
It is this, studies have found that there is a significant decrease in the presence of this Salmonella species in eggs from caged hens compared to those where the hens are able to run around freely.
So now we have another factor to consider when choosing which eggs to take home – do I want to buy the eggs based on what is seen as humane reasons or do I want to buy eggs which are now known to be safer?
The food industry is now caught in a bind – the public perception is that caged eggs are “bad” and that it is good and right that we buy eggs from free range or barn hens and this seems to be increasing but we know that the risk from this Salmonella species is much less from the caged eggs.
How do we as an industry try to change the public perception or do we have to live with it and once again find ways to protect the public from their own beliefs.
It will indeed be interesting to see what comes out of this food safety vs humane issue which is now starting to brew with the egg industry and it’s implications to the food industry as a whole.