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Eggs are eggs...or maybe not!


September 2017

British Lion Quality Egg

British Egg Week is this year being held 9th to 15th October, with a range of egg based activities taking place across the country, including some fun celebrations of the Great British Breakfast.

The week is always popular because eggs are a fundamental part of our diet. Today however it has all become a tad complicated, with a vast choice of products and decision to be made about the egg you buy.  In our childhood, you just bought eggs, often from the milkman who religiously delivered to your front door every day. Many will remember that famous advertising slogan Go to Work on an Egg, led by a TV advert featuring Tony Hancock.

The advert was set up by the then Egg Marketing Board which was launched by the government in December 1956 to help the market for eggs. Other slogans used by the board included Happiness is Egg Shaped and Eggs are Full of Protein.

The Egg Marketing Board were also responsible for introducing the famous little lion mark stamped in red on the actual egg a very gentle stamping machine we guess! In those days, the Board purchased all the eggs produced in the UK, graded them to a national standard, and stamped them with a small lion logo as a mark of quality before selling them on to shops across the country.

The Egg Marketing Board closed down in 1971 and the lion mark was dropped but revived in a different format (see bottom of this story) by the British Egg Information Service in 1998. This service is run by the British Egg Industry Council to provide information and answer questions about eggs.

And my goodness, today we need information because the choice of eggs is huge and confusing. Eggs come from free range to barn eggs to omega 3 enriched and there is also a variety of different markings not only on the egg carton but on the eggs themselves. What is it all about?

Free range eggs are the eggs of choice by many today; who are keen the chickens that lay these nutritious food items have a healthy and happy life. Free range means the hens are full access to the outdoors during daytime, with fresh water and free pecking areas in land covered with vegetation. Their houses are made comfortable with straw covering the floor. They are provided with nest boxes and also water and feed in troughs to ensure their health.

Corn-fed eggs can be free range or sometimes raised in more intense farming systems but the key difference is that they are given feed rich in maize instead of wheat. This ensures the yolk is a deep yellow which looks wonderful on a plate. However, the nutritional value of the yolks, dark or pale, is about the same. There are some studies that show that eggs from pasture raised hens may have more omega-3.

You can today buy omega-3 enriched eggs. These come from hens that have been fed a diet especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are passed on into the egg. Often the levels are double that which is found in normal eggs.

Barn eggs are what they say; eggs from chickens kept in a barn...or in most cases today specially built hen houses. While they offer all the requirements needed by hens for health and egg production, and conditions are very well regulated, nevertheless the birds do not have access to the outside.

Eggs are sometimes also available from hens reared in laying cage systems. These are larger “enriched” cages, modern versions of the old battery cages which have been generally banned. The new style cages are designed to contain between just 40 and 80 birds, giving them adequate room to move around plus perches to sleep on and nest box areas to ensure as much comfort as possible for the birds. Lighting is used to mimic day and night.

Organic eggs are of course what they say...similar to free range eggs but the chickens graze in an organic controlled area and are fed only organic feed.

Once you have decided on the type of eggs you want to buy, the decisions don’t necessarily end there. Egg marking is a modern requirement which varies across the world. Most are only on the egg cartons themselves but some actually mark each egg. Often there is a series of numbers that indicate the producer’s own code, the method of production, the country code and a registration number.

In the EU the egg code consists of a stamp on all class A eggs unless they are sold directly on a farm, and comprise a number indicating the method of production, a two letter code for the country of origin and a registration number to determine the actual producer.

Lion quality eggs in a bowlWith regard to the method of production, the numbers are:
0 for organic eggs
1 for free range eggs
2 for deep litter indoor housed eggs
3 for cage farming.

The code for British produced eggs is simply UK.

The Lion quality mark is still in existence today and indicates that the eggs are British, produced to the highest food safety standard, and the hens have been vaccinated against salmonella.

Once you start finding out about eggs, simply picking up a carton from the laden shelf in the local shop can turn into a time consuming study and investigation before the best eggs can be selected.

But eggs are still eggs! And however you buy them they are still convenient, easy to cook items packed with great nutrition.

There is lots more information about eggs on line, including the next step of how to safely store and handle eggs.

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