The egg aisle has become a confusing place. We are often wooed by pretty packaging displaying idyllic images of red, fat chickens on a backdrop of emerald green pastures. The discerning consumer, who has an interest in the welfare of the farm animals will gladly pay a few extra dollars for free range eggs perhaps they also believe that free range eggs are more nutritious and taste better than cage eggs. Australians love eating eggs and eating this amazing food is further encouraged by health advocates, the Paleo movement and weight loss gurus.

Nutrition Facts & Myths

One large egg is a good food source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B12, Phosphorous, Selenium, Choline and Protein. New research suggests that choline may promote cognitive development during pregnancy and adequate intake during pregnancy may improve lifelong health of child. [1,2]

A large egg will provide approximately 299 kJ and also contains 211 mg cholesterol. The Heart Foundation and the Dietetics Association (DAA) both state that this type of cholesterol has no significant impact on heart disease. [1,3,4 ]

There are several myths and misconceptions in regards to egg nutrition. These are some of the common ones:

  • A deep yellow yolk represents a nutritious, fresh egg

The yellowness of the egg yolk or the colour of the eggshell does not relate to an egg that is more nutritious, healthier or tastier. A deep yellow yolk just means there is more beta-carotene in the diet and it most likely comes from corn or another substance added into the feed. Shell colour (brown or white) is dependant on the breed. [5]

  • Some consumers believe that caged hens may be genetically modified and are pumped up with hormones.

This is also a myth since none of these practices exist in Australia. [5]

  • Some consumers believe that free-range eggs must be more nutritious due to better living conditions and feed.

Free range hens are fed a certain amount of feed to keep them healthy. Feed pellet formulations vary among producers. Formulations consist of precise nutrient profiles that are required during different stages of growth. Most of the feed is made from grains such as corn, wheat and sorghum. Fats and protein are also added and are derived from vegetable and animal resources such as oilseeds, legumes, abattoir and fish processing by-products. [6] Some of the feed is fortified with other nutrients such as minerals and vitamins. In Australia ruminant by-products are available for use in poultry feed but is not given to other ruminant species. There are some challenges with the use of animal protein resources such a the transmission of disease such as mad cow disease, heavy metal contamination, dioxins and pesticides. Feed must be constantly checked for contaminants by the manufacturer. [6]

Hens who have the luxury of fresh pasture and less stocking density may also forage for additional protein, roughage and greens from bugs, grass and grain. This however does not necessarily mean that the egg is more nutritious. The only way to find out is to have eggs tested for a nutrient profile in a lab.

One study compared the nutritional quality of three eggs with varied results. A conventional caged egg, an organic egg and an egg enriched with- 3 fatty acids (neutraceutical egg) were compared. The results showed a higher protein content, higher vitamin K and higher Copper content in the organic egg. The conventional cage egg had more magnesium and iron content and the neutraceutical egg had more calcium and a higher level of monounsaturated fatty acid. This study shows that feed content directly influences the nutritional content of an egg and not how it is raised. [7]

  • Eggs are protected by a hard shell and cannot be contaminated by pesticides

Chemical residue has been found inside eggs. According to the Department of Primary Industries incoming feed stock should be purchased from reputable suppliers. Pellets or mash should be accompanied by a declaration stating the feed is free from contaminants and chemical residue. However this is not enforced in Australia. [8] Certified Organic and biodynamic farm practices do not allow harmful use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals in their feed. 95% of the feed must be organic. [9]

  • Dirty eggs (poop & feathers) show that it has come from a free-range or organic farm and not a high intensity farm

According to the department of Primary Industries eggs must not be sold with visible dirt, feathers or other matter on the egg. The egg must be dry-cleaned. [8]

  • Eggs contain cholesterol, which lead to heart disease

Foods such as prawns and eggs were wrongly condemned in the past and associated with heart disease. The Australian Dietary Guidelines now maintain that consumption of 5-7 eggs a week is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. [2,3]

Animal welfare

Chickens are social animals and have particular needs and behaviours required by their species such as nesting, scratching, foraging, perching and dust bathing. Caged birds and birds placed in overcrowded conditions are inhibited and may become distressed and aggressive.[11]

According to Animals Australia, life is usually short for a hen in most commercial enterprises and they are sent to slaughter when egg production decreases at about 18 months. Newly hatched male chicks are useless and are disposed of. Debeaking is another unsavoury aspect of animal husbandry and is allowed under the free range certification but not with Australian Certified Organic (ACO), Demeter or Humane Choice certifications. [9,10] Poultry flocks have a tendency to cause injury to each other by pecking and may even display cannibalism and therefore the beaks are partially removed from the chicks. [11] The Australian Veterinary Association has stated that although beak trimming might be necessary to protect the flock, producers need to look at and implement practices that prevent pecking such as:

  • The selection of less aggressive breeds
  • Better management of site
  • Decrease stocking densities
  • Adjust feed formulations AVA

The Australian government has recently changed regulation standards on stocking density for eggs labeled free range. The national standard on stocking density is 10,000 hens or less per hectare.[12] Many producers and consumer groups such as Choice do not believe that this new regulation and stocking density constitute free range and believe that stocking 1500 birds per hectare is a far better standard. This is also backed up by organisations such as ACO, Demeter and Humane choice. [9,10] Excessive crowding may lead to distressed bird behaviour, poor grazing area, excessive pecking and cannibalism.

Many small producers who have low stocking density and move their hens to new pastures are trying to differentiate themselves from high density commercial farmers and are now calling their eggs ‘pastured’. Some are adopting a new category or certifcation called Pasture Raised On Open Fields (PROOF).[13]

In response to consumer concern and complaints from small scale producers Consumer advocate Choice has developed a free App called CluckAR. [14] This allows the consumer to see how many hens per hectare are raised by a producer. According to Choice 10,000 birds per hectare is the limit adopted by Coles and Woolworth for their free range labeled eggs.

Ethical options

  • Avoid intensive farmed chicken eggs and look for certification logos (Demeter, ACO ,PROOF and Humane Choice). These logos must meet standards according to the association and are audited.
  • A free App called CluckAR can be used at point of purchase and will tell you how many hens are stocked at the producer’s farm [14]

Or you can go meet the farmer (some small producers or hobby farmers simply can not afford the expensive costs associated with certification). They are often located at farmers markets.

Try meat/egg free days. Chia puddings and oat porridge are excellent sources of protein for breakfast. Tempeh and tofu make excellent meat alternatives and can often mimic the texture of meat.

 

References:

  1. Self Nutrition Data. Egg Whole, Raw Fresh Nutrition Facts & Calories [internet]. Conde Nast; 2014; [cited 2018 Feb]. Available from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/111/2
  2. Caudill MA, West AA, Jiang X. Maternal Choline Supplementation: a nutritional approach for improving offspring health? [internet]. 2014 March [cited 2018 Feb]; Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism 25(5):263-273. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043276014000289
  3. Heart Foundation. Eggs [internet].[cited 2018 Feb]. Available from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/food-and-nutrition/protein-foods/eggs
  4. Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Can I eat eggs if I want to be healthy? [internet]. 2018 [cited 2018 Feb]. Available from: https://daa.asn.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/food-and-food-products/can-i-eat-eggs-if-i-want-to-be-healthy/
  5. Liu SY. Ten facts you need to know about the chicken and eggs on your table. [internet] 2016 July [cited 2018 feb]. Australia:The Conversation. Available from: http://www.theconversation.com/ten-facts-you-need-to-know-about-the-chicken-and-eggs
  6. Poultry Hub. Feed ingredients [internet]. 2018 [cited 2018 Feb]. Australia; Poultry CRC. Available from: http://www.poultryhub.org/nutrition/feed-ingredients/
  7. Filipiak–Florkiewicz A, Dereń K, Florkiewicz A, Topolska K, Juszczak L, Cieślik E ; The quality of eggs (organic and nutraceutical vs. conventional) and their technological properties [internet], 2017 July [cited 2018 Feb] Poultry Science, 96 (7): 2480–2490. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3382/ps/pew488
  8. Department of Primary Industries. Requirements for egg producers FA [internet] NSW 2015 Oct [cited 2018 Feb]. Available from: http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/_Documents/industry/egg_stamping_for_egg_producers.pdf
  9. Australian Organic. Seven Reasons to choose Australian Certified Organic [internet] 2017 [cited 2018 Feb] available from; http;//www.austorganic.com/consumers/7-reasons-to-go-certified-organic
  10. Humane choice. True Free Range Standards General [internet] [cited 2018 Feb} Available from: http;//www.humanechoice.com.au/certified_humane_choice_standards
  11. Australian Veterinary Association.Beak Trimming of Commercial Poultry [internet]  2010 Aug [cited 2018 Feb] Available from: http://www.ava.com.au/policy/121-beak-trimming-commercial-poultry
  12. Federal Register of Legislation. [internet] Australian Consumer Law (free Range Egg Labelling) Information Standard [internet] 2017 [cited 2018 Feb]. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2017L00474
  13. Adams P. Pastured egg producers angry over coming changes to ‘free range’ definition [internet] 2016 Sep [cited 2018 Feb] ABC landline. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-09/pastured-egg-producers-say-regulations-destroying-free-range/7824028
  14. Ibrahim T. CluckAR launches national hunt for truee free-range eggs. [internet] 2017 April [cited 2018 Feb]. Choice. Available from: http;//www.choice.com.au