2005-12-07

New Organic Egg Law Problem

The British organic egg market is booming. According to 'The Soil Association's' 'Organic Market Report 2005', published earlier this year, the sector is worth 17_million_GBP annually, with some egg packers reporting double-figure sales increases to the big retailers during 2004. However, the growing army of converts could face problems finding home-grown organic eggs in the new year with the introduction of new government legislation. This will set out new requirements for the raising of organic pullets (chicks reared to lay eggs). While the rules are designed to raise standards in the sector, in the short term at least, it seems consumers might lose out. Here we take a look at why you might struggle to whip up an organic omelette in 2006 -- and what you can do to help turn the situation around. WHAT'S AN ORGANIC EGG? An egg that has been laid by an organic pullet which has been fed a natural, GM-free diet and not routinely treated with antibiotics. Organic egg producers must be registered with one of the ten approved British certification bodies, which adhere to strict EU-enforced regulations. WHY SHOULD I EAT THEM? Organic eggs come from free-ranging hens whose flock size is restricted and the birds have access to fresh air and either pastureland or runs on which vegetation grows. Their organic diet also means that their eggs are free from any chemical nasties. HOW IS THE LAW CHANGING? Under current regulations, non-organic pullets can be brought on to organic holdings and converted once they are there. However, new legislation to be introduced by 'The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) on 2005-12-31 requires any pullets destined for an organic farm to be certified organic prior to arrival, and ideally they will have been reared organically from hatching. SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? 'Organic Farmers & Growers' (OF&G), a UK organic accreditation body which certifies about 70 per cent of British organic poultry, fears egg producers have not got the message that they will no longer be able to introduce non-organic pullets into their units, and so have not put pressure on pullet rearers to supply birds raised under the new rules. OF&G believes that most rearers may be holding back from adopting the new systems because they are uncertain of demand. So the risk is that organic pullets will be in short supply next year. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME? Fewer organic pullets in the UK means fewer home-grown organic eggs. Richard Jacobs, chief executive of OF&G, explains: 'The rearers are not being made aware of the full level of demand there will be... If this doesn't change we could be looking, by spring of next year, at having to de-certify egg producers because they cannot get the pullets they require.' CAN'T WE IMPORT ORGANIC EGGS? Yes. But more imported produce means more food miles, more greenhouse gas emissions, damaged livelihoods and fragile local economies. Some retailers say they won't be affected. 'Marks & Spencer' for one doesn't foresee any issues in availability of home-grown eggs because their producers are British and have been complying with the new regulations for several years. HOW CAN I SECURE MY SUPPLY? Demand leads to supply, so if your retailer starts offering only imported stock, lobby them to get home-grown organic eggs back on the shelves. Alternatively, seek out a local egg supplier you trust. • For organic suppliers check out 'The Soil Association's' on-line directory at www.theorganicdirectory.co.uk 'Scrambling for organic eggs ', JO EWART MACKENZIE, The Scotsman, 2005-12-07 Links: Fairtrade Foundation Oxfam -- Fair trade Traidcraft The Ecologist Magazine Bananalink Ethical Consumer New Consumer

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