Eggs

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Australians love their eggs; we are eating more than ever, up 20 per cent in the past five years. Most are from battery hens, but for how much longer? The push is well and truly on to phase them out

In their place there's a dizzying array of alternatives, free range, barn laid, omega 3 or grain fed, just to name a few.

Helen Wellings reports on what the different egg labels mean and if you can trust them. And, top chefs have their say on which eggs are the best.

Helen "What's the real difference between barn-laid, free-range, organic and plain old caged eggs? What do claims like Omega 3, grain-fed and farm-fresh mean? Which eggs score the highest marks for colour, taste, texture and value for money judged by our leading chef eggsperts, Damien Pignolet and Jason Roberts of Sydney's Bistro Moncur and Bellevue Hotel.

Damien "I'm looking for an egg which has got what I call, barn-yard, that old traditional full-flavoured thing that actually I grew up from the eggs that we had in the backyard

Jason Roberts "I think there definitely is a stand-out egg there."

Helen "Leaving our chefs to the judging - Australians eat 1 egg every second day EGGSon average - 75% are from battery hens, 13 million of them, living in wire cages inside sheds. Regulations require a minimum space allocation, which is less than the size of A4 paper...

"Caged eggs should be banned. We shouldn't be having them" says one lady

Helen "Animal Liberation's 35 years of exposés against the battery egg industry gathered momentum recently when Woolworths announced it was phasing out caged eggs, acting on the shopper-driven switch to barn and free range. The latest Coles is phasing out battery eggs by 2013 and reducing the price of free-range from $5, which they believe most shoppers won't pay to around $4 for a 700 gm dozen.

"I think caged eggs are a revolting practice" says another consumer

Helen "But surprisingly it's the bastions of conservatism, local councils, that are really fired up about caged hens."

"The point of my motion is to ban battery caged eggs at council functions because I believe the production process of the eggs is cruel"

Helen "Lismore City Council councillor, David Yarnall, objects to crammed conditions and the practice of cutting beaks to prevent the hens pecking each other. The Council passed his motion.

David Yarnall "I'm hoping that with councils leadership in this area, that will encourage other producers as well, to take on this non-caged egg method of production the animals can't turn over, they can't live naturally. Now to my way of thinking, that is not the best way to be producing our food

Helen "Already dozens of other councils around Australia have banned caged eggs at catered council functions, including 18 in NSW. Some European Union countries have banned or are phasing out battery hens. But are caged eggs less nutritional?

Sharon Natoli "When it comes to the nutritional value of eggs there's no real difference between the 3 major production systems of barn laid, free range and caged eggs, so nutritionally they're quite similar."

Helen "Dietician, Sharon Natoli of Food and Nutrition Australia says the type of grain feed and additives can enhance the vitamins and minerals, but unless the label says otherwise, they're still the caged eggs."

Nutritionist "if people are looking for particular, nutrient-enriched eggs, they'll usually find the omega 3 enriched eggs. Eggs are a great source of protein; they've got the highest quality protein of all foods"

Helen "The difference between barn-laid and free-range eggs with barn-laid, hens are indoors continuously but can roam inside the shed, no more than 14 birds per square meter. Free-range hens are housed in sheds with access to outdoors, but HOW free-ranging depends on the brand - if all their food and needs are indoors they may only venture out and forage rarely.

There's no mandatory labelling for eggs, so the term "free range" varies. But if producers say their eggs are free range and they're found not to be, they can be prosecuted. The ACCC has taken legal action against a Western Australian egg wholesaler for claiming their eggs were free range when allegedly they were not. Last month in the UK, a supplier was jailed for 3 years for passing off battery eggs as free range

Our top chefs, Damien Pignolet and Jason Roberts blind tasted 4 different eggs.

Jason "nice fragrant smell to it the flavour's definitely better than the last one

Helen "The yellow tag denotes a free-range egg; pink is a superior farm raised organic egg, purple - barn laid; blue is a caged egg

Both gave top score to ...

The free range.

ahhh! well that's a comfort

Helen "Free range cost from $4.40 a dozen. The caged egg from $2.30 comes in second.

Damien "Totally surprised"

Helen "Our most expensive organic farm eggs, $11 a dozen, only win third place. Barn-laid eggs, around $4.30 a dozen, get the lowest score. So did they find the old-fashioned egg of their childhood?"

A pleasant, quite full palette, but I wouldn't call it barnyard

Jason "There's a lot of misnomers about our eggs and I think it's very hard to reach back and grab those eggs that we had during our childhood."