A Legal Loophole Fostering Negligence
Upon the introduction of the egg labelling requirements in 2004, German consumers are able to easily see under what conditions chickens produce the eggs and where the chickens are raised and kept. According to this labelling system, the numbers indicate which type of husbandry system has been used in chicken farms; 0 stands for organic, 1 for free-range, 2 for free-range, and 3 for use of battery cages. Because of this system, the demand for eggs produced in a more organic fashion has been growing. In 2010 Germany prohibited the use of battery cages, and most of Europe followed suit in 2012. However, it is still allowed to make use of cages where up to twelve hens share a surface area of one square meter. In free-range farms, just for the sake of comparison, only nine chickens are allowed to occupy the surface area of one square meter. Yet despite the ban of battery cages, some EU countries still make use of them. Most of the eggs produced under such circumstances are then exported to Germany, and are often used in finished or ready -made products found in our grocery stores. Pasta, cakes, biscuits, salads, baking mixes etc. make use of these low cost eggs, without specifying the origin of the eggs on their ingredients list for consumers to know.
Only Half of the Truth Exposed
The problem has become known to not only consumers, but also to political groups. The political party Die Grünen, literally “The Greens”, has researched the origin of eggs used by 74 of Germany’s biggest companies in the food industry. Of the 74 companies, only 53 disclosed this information. One third of the responding companies, most being discount stores with their own private brands, admitted to using eggs that originate from farms who use caging and not specifying this on the majority of their product labels. According to the green party, this situation is not acceptable. The green party commented that eggs which have originated “from farms in which the hens are kept in severe confinement should be recognizable.” Consumers are entitled to know the circumstances under which the eggs were produced, and thus be able to make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing products which make use of “eggs originating from tortured chickens.” The Party insists that the origin of eggs be made known on the ingredient lists of product packaging in a way that is clear for consumers i.e. in the form of text and not a barcode. The Ministry of Agriculture points out that such a scheme should be put into practice on a German and European-wide level.
Producers are Compromising
In response to protests held by animal activists, companies have started to alter their production inputs, especially in the last few years. Since 2007, Dr.Oetker no longer makes use of eggs originating from farms using battery cages. This is also the case for Campbell’s’ products, such as their Erasco package-mix soups. General Mills, producer of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, has switched to the use of free-range eggs. In 2011 Nestlé, for the production of goods for the German market, switched to the use of eggs from farms using free-range systems. Though these companies are leading by example, there are still many products in our supermarkets whose content remain questionable. Buyers are encouraged to look at the ingredient list of specific products such as ready-made salads and dressings. We will never have a complete overview of what goes into the products we purchase, since manufacturers grant this information to consumers on a voluntary basis only. To change this, the organization Foodwatch is undertaking an online petition. Join this movement by giving your signature under the following link.