Organic eggs come from hens that are free to roam in an outdoor area during the day and are housed safely and securely in sheds at night. The main difference between organic and free range is organic eggs are produced without the use of any chemicals.
Organic eggs only make up about two percent of supermarket egg sales in Australia and growth in organic eggs has been relatively small in recent years.
Below are a few answers to commonly asked questions about organic eggs.
How Are Organic Eggs Produced?
Most importantly, organic eggs are laid by hens that are fed organically grown grain.
This means organic egg farmers can only buy grain from a certified organic supplier who grows the grain without using herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilisers.
The farmer must also keep the outdoor range area where the hens wander around and forage free of any chemicals. This means weeds and pests have to be managed in natural ways such as companion planting, rotational grazing and using cultivation techniques that expose pests to predation.
Because of the emphasis that organic farming places on land and soil regeneration, there are lower stocking density allowances than in free range.
The maximum outdoor stocking density allowed on an organic egg farm is one hen per four square metres where range rotation is practiced, or one hen per six square metres where fixed outdoor ranges are used.
Antibiotics are generally not permitted in organic egg farming and if they are used in exceptional circumstances, the hens treated with antiobiotics must be separated from the rest of the flock.
Similarly, routine vaccination of hens is not allowed unless required by law or if natural management practices are insufficient to control an on-farm disease.
How to Identify Organic Eggs
There are a number of government-accredited organisations that certify organic products in Australia, which means people can trust the food they buy has been produced to strict standards.
Australian Certified Organic is the largest certifier and because it is supported by the major supermarkets, it can be seen on about 80 percent of all organic products.
When buying organic eggs it is important to look out for an organic certification body logo or symbol to ensure the farm meets national organic production standards. Other government approved organic certification organisations include:
- Bio-Dynamic Research Institute
- NASAA Certified Organic
- Organic Food Chain
- Southern Cross Certified Australia
What Is the Difference Between Free Range and Organic Eggs?
There is a lot of overlap between organic and free range eggs as the hen housing and outdoor range configuration used by farmers is very similar.
Put simply, all organic eggs are also free range but not all free range eggs are organic.
Australian egg farmers cannot produce organic eggs in cage or barn-laid production systems.
In both free range and organic egg farming, the hens have access to open ranges during the day and are provided with secure climate-controlled sheds where they feed, drink, roost, lay eggs and feel safe away from predators.
Where organic egg farming differs from free range is:
- Organic feed is produced without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides
- The organic paddocks hens roam around on are free of any chemicals
- The hen stocking rate in organic is lower than free range
- Vaccines and antibiotics are avoided as much as possible in organic farming