ARCHIVE: Eggs and poultry marketing standards - frequently asked questions

Marketing standards for eggs and poultrymeat

Eggs Marketing Standards

The Eggs (Marketing Standards) Regulations as amended, lay down rules for hen eggs marketed throughout the EU. They relate to the quality and weight grading, marking, packaging, storage, transport, labelling for retail sale, so that eggs are marketed on a fair competitive basis. The rules also specify the criteria which must be met before claims about certain types of farming can be made (e.g. free-range and barn, but not organic which are covered in separate regulations).

The Egg (Marketing Standards) Regulations as amended, apply to hen eggs marketed within the Community, including sales at auction markets and door-to-door sales. The Hatching Eggs and Chicks Regulations cover domestic fowl (e.g. laying hens, meat chickens), turkeys, ducks, geese and guinea fowl.

The Egg Marketing Standards Regulationsas amended, do not apply to:

  • Eggs not from laying hens;
  • Eggs sold directly to the consumer for their own use;
  • By the producer on their own farm; or
  • By the producer in a local public market (with the exception of farm gate sales, at local public/auction markets, or by door to door selling).

Special Marketing Terms (SMTs)

The egg marketing regulations allow optional indications of certain alternative farming methods, often referred to as Special Marketing Terms (SMTs). These specify the criteria which must be met before claims about certain types of farming can be made. The Regulations seek to protect the consumer by setting high uniform standards and providing informative labelling. They also protect the producer against unfair competition.

Examples of SMTs are "free range" and extensive / indoor barn. In order to comply with this claim, the producer must comply with the criteria set out in the respective regulations.

The Eggs and Chicks(England) Regulations 2009 make provision for the enforcement in England of EC egg marketing standards relating to eggs for hatching and farmyard poultry chicks and eggs in shell for human consumption.

Egg production systems

Cage

A cage system consists of tiers of cages. The cages have sloping mesh floors so that the eggs roll forward, out of the reach of the birds to await collection. For each cage there must be at least 10cm of feed trough/bird and at least two drinkers/cage or 10cm of drinking trough/bird. Droppings pass through the mesh floors onto boards, belts or into a pit to await removal. A minimum of 550cm squared per bird is required in standard cages, which were installed prior to 2003.

Since 2003 only installation of enriched cages are allowed, with a minimum of 750cm square per bird along with a nest, perching space at 15cm/bird and a scratching area. In each cage feeding troughs must be at least 12cm/bird and at least two nipple drinkers or two cups must be within easy reach of each hen (where nipple drinkers are provided).

N.B. From 1 January 2012, laying hens cannot be kept in conventional cages. The UK have been fully committed to the ban and protecting the UK industry from any possible non-compliance elsewhere in Europe. The UK industry is working towards a phase out of conventional cages, it estimated that in the UK 90% of caged egg production was still using conventional cages at the beginning of 2009.

Barn

The barn system has a series of perches and feeders at different levels. The maximum stocking density is 9 birds per square metre and there must be at least 250cm square of litter area/bird. Perches for the birds must be installed to allow 15 cm of perch per hen. There must be at least 10cm of feeder/bird and at least one drinker/10 birds. There must be one nest for every 7 birds or 1 square metre of nest space for every 120 birds. Water and feeding troughs are raised so that the food is not scattered

Free range

In free-range systems, the birds are housed as described in the barn system above. In addition birds must have continuous daytime access to open runs which are mainly covered with vegetation and with a maximum stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare.

In all systems the birds must be inspected at least once a day. At the end of each laying period the respective houses are completely cleared and disinfected.

All EU requirements for the above systems can be found in Council Directive 1999/74/EC, Commission Regulation (EC) No 589/2008 and Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007:

Organic

Organic systems are similar to those of free range however the guidelines for the birds and their feed are more stringent. The pullets must be raised by certified organic production methods from birth. The layers are required to have outdoor access all year round, or be fed sprouted grains for the period when indoors and all feed must be certified organic. No antibiotics or meat by-products are allowed in the feed and each bird is required to have 2 square feet of floor space.

The minimum requirements for organic farming in the UK are set out in the "Compendium of UK Organic Standards". In very brief terms housing conditions for organic animals must meet the animals behaviour needs as regards freedom of movement and comfort. Poultry must be reared in open-range conditions and cannot be kept in cages. The buildings must meet certain requirements set out in the Compendium. Poultry must have access to open air runs whenever the weather conditions permit and wherever possible must have such access for at least one third of their life. The land that the poultry range is on must be organic. These are the very basic husbandry requirements of organic poultry in the UK. Annex 1B Section 8 of the Compendium refers.

Egg Marking

All Class A eggs (i.e. those sold through retail and to catering) are required to be marked with a code identifying the method of production, country of origin and the production establishment. The code will start with a number to distinguish production method, this should be ‘0’ = Organic, ‘1’ = Free Range, ‘2’ = Barn, ‘3’ = Eggs from Caged Hens. This will be followed by two letters (the ISO code) denoting country of origin (e.g. 'UK') followed by a code identifying the registered production site (numbers sometimes with letters). So for example a Free Range egg might be stamped: 1UK9999.

Poultrymeat Marketing Standards

The Poultrymeat Marketing Standards Regulations were adopted to facilitate harmonised standards throughout the EU for the marketing of poultrymeat intended for human consumption. They relate in particular to the classification by quality, weight, packaging (including labelling), water content and storage. They also specify the criteria which must be met before claims about certain types of farming can be made. The Regulations seek to protect the consumer by setting high uniform standards and providing informative labelling. They also protect the producer against unfair competition.

The Poultrymeat Marketing Standards apply to fresh, chilled, frozen or quick frozen whole carcasses, cuts, offal and preparations of the following species of poultry only (other areas of legislation may have a wider interpretation of 'poultry'):

  • domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus) (e.g. meat chickens, laying hens, etc.)
  • ducks
  • geese
  • turkeys
  • guinea fowls.

The Poultrymeat Marketing Standards Regulations do not apply to:

  • Poultrymeat products (e.g. cooked, processed dishes)
  • Poultrymeat intended for export from the EC
  • Sales from farms with an annual production of under 10,000 birds, providing the farmer supplies fresh poultrymeat from the holding in the same locality as that of the producer or in a neighbouring locality, or
  • New York Dressed poultry (i.e. delayed evisceration poultry, such as Traditional Farm Fresh turkeys).

The EC Poultrymeat Marketing Standards Regulations have been directly applicable in all Member States since 1 July 1991. They are being complied with by common consent at the present time by the UK poultry industry. A domestic implementing regulation is being drawn up and is currently out for consultation.

Poultrymeat special marketing terms (SMTs)

The poultrymeat marketing regulations allow optional indications of certain alternative farming methods, often referred to as Special Marketing Terms (SMTs). These specify the criteria which must be met before claims about certain types of farming can be made. The Regulations seek to protect the consumer by setting high uniform standards and providing informative labelling. They also protect the producer against unfair competition.

Examples of SMTs are "free range" and extensive / indoor barn. In order to comply with this claim, the producer must comply with the criteria set out in the respective regulations.

What does "free range" on an egg or poultrymeat product mean?

"Free range", on an egg or poultrymeat product, is a Special Marketing Term (SMT) indicating that the product has been produced in compliance with the criteria set-out in the respective marketing regulations. The criteria for both eggs and poultrymeat are shown below:

Poultrymeat production

Stocking rate in the house is as follows:

  • Chickens = 13 birds but not more than 27.5 kg live weight per m²;
  • Ducks, guinea fowl, turkeys = 25 kg live weight per m²;
  • Geese = 15 kg live weight per m²;

Age at slaughter must be:

  • Chickens = 56 days or later
  • Turkeys = 70 days or later
  • Muscovy ducks = 70 days or later for females, 84 days or later for males
  • Peking ducks = 49 days or later
  • Female mulard ducks = 65 days or later
  • Geese = 112 days or later
  • Guinea fowl = 82 days or later

In addition, the birds have had during at least half their lifetime continuous daytime access to open-air runs, comprising an area mainly covered by vegetation, of not less than:

  • 1m² per chicken or guinea fowl (in the case of guinea fowls, open-air runs may be replaced by a perchery having a floor space of at least that of the house and a height of at least 2m, with perches of at least 10 cm length available per bird in total (house and perchery)).
  • 2m² per duck
  • 4m² per turkey or goose

The feed formula used in the fattening stage contains at least 70% of cereals, and the poultry house must also be provided with pop holes of a combined length at least equal to 4 m per 100m² floor space of the house.

More detailed information on poultrymeat market regulations, a copy of the regulations and a guide to these regulations are available.

FAQs - Eggs

Why are eggs not refrigerated?

Before purchase by the consumer, EC legislation requires that eggs are stored and transported at a preferably constant temperature. This is current practice within the UK egg industry and the reason why the majority of retail outlets' egg displays are not refrigerated. Changes in storage temperature and humidity can lead to condensation forming on the egg shell which can cause mould growth together with the possibility that any bacteria may infect the eggs as a result. After purchase, the consumer is advised to refrigerate the eggs to maintain freshness and reduce the possibility of bacteria growth resulting from exposure to the temperature and humidity variations of the domestic kitchen. Further information:

Is egg washing permitted?

EC egg marketing legislation does not permit Class 'A' eggs to be washed. These are the class of egg most commonly found at retail level, as Class 'A' is the highest quality of egg. Such eggs may not be washed because it is considered preferable to produce a clean, quality egg in the first place reflecting high production management. Class 'B' eggs and those intended for processing may be washed.

What about the egg marking and labelling rules for third country eggs?

Third country eggs will either have to use the same production terms as EU producers or be stamped/labelled "farming method not specified". Egg packs will have to include the country of origin, as currently required.

What was the UK position on labelling and marking of third country eggs?

In negotiations, the UK argued strongly for tighter provisions for third country eggs so that consumers would be aware that eggs were coming from systems not permitted in the EU. However, it was accepted that the adopted text went as far as is compatible with WTO rules. Indeed some World Trade Organization member states had already scrutinised the proposal and questioned its validity.

Are organic poultrymeat or eggs included in the marketing standards?

Organic production methods may also be included in labelling where the appropriate requirements are met, but are not covered within the egg or poultrymeat marketing standards regulations. Information on organic production, and contact details are available.

What material is used for the code stamped on eggs and can it penetrate the shell?

The material used is a food grade dye. Although the egg is porous, dye would only pass through if excessive ink was placed on the egg shell. Skilful application (applying the correct amount of ink) prevents this from happening.

FAQs - Poultrymeat

What is the difference between "free range", "traditional free range" and "free range - total freedom" for poultrymeat?

The Poultrymeat Marketing Regulations allow producers to use a variety of Special Marketing Terms (SMTs) to describe their products. A product described as "free range" must comply with basic criteria providing the birds with outside access for at least half their lives.

Optionally, producers may make further provision for the birds, which will mean the product is grown in a less intensive more welfare-friendly method. "Traditional Free Range" requirements differ from "Free Range" by requiring more extensive open-air access, a lower stocking density, and a greater minimum age at slaughter. "Free range - total freedom" has similar requirements, but birds must have unrestricted day-time open-air access.

More detailed information on poultrymeat market regulations, a copy of the regulations and a guide to these regulations are available.

What is "corn fed chicken"?

The term "corn fed" alone is not recognised by the EC Poultrymeat Marketing Standards. The only feed Special Marketing Terms (SMTs) for poultrymeat are "fed with x %….." (eg "fed with 50% corn") or "oats fed goose". However, the term 'corn fed' is commonly used, and is understood to mean that the feed formula given during the greater part of the fattening period contains at least 50% corn/maize. The fattening period is not defined in the regulations but is generally thought to be the latter half of the chicken's life.

What species are covered by the term "poultry"?

With regard to marketing and international trade issues, the following species are classified as "poultry" (although other areas of legislation may have a wider interpretation of "poultry"):

  • domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus) (e.g. meat (broiler) chickens, laying hens, etc.)
  • ducks
  • geese
  • turkeys
  • and guinea fowls.
Are organic poultrymeat or eggs included in the marketing standards?

Organic production methods may also be included in labelling where the appropriate requirements are met, but are not covered within the egg or poultrymeat marketing standards regulations. Information on organic production, and contact details are available.

Page last modified: 6 July 2010
Page published: 21 July 2009