Organic eggs make a difference

Chicken Rearing: Is Organic Really Better?

Status: 02/20/2018 9:20 a.m.
In organic farming, four square meters of exercise space are required for each laying hen.

An egg from an organic farm costs around 36 cents, an egg from conventional animal husbandry 13 cents. But what exactly is the difference between organic farming and conventional chicken farming? Are organic chickens happier than free-range or barn animals and their eggs healthier? And why are more than 40 million male chicks shredded immediately after hatching each year? Answers to the most important questions.

How do the forms of husbandry differ?

Fresh air, free space and space to peck and scratch - this is how consumers imagine the life of an organic chicken. How much space chickens have in the various positions and what feed they get is clearly regulated:

  • The ecological attitude provides for a maximum of six laying hens per square meter and an additional four square meters of exercise space per hen. With the even stricter Demeter organic standard, there are only four and a half animals per square meter.
  • In the Free range A maximum of nine hens may live in one square meter of usable barn space. In addition, each chicken has an area of ​​four square meters to run around.
  • In Free run the chickens live in a closed stall where they can move around freely. As with free-range husbandry, up to nine chickens per square meter of housing area are permitted. At least a third of the floor area must be covered with litter such as straw, wood chips, sand or clay.
  • Small groups are the minimum standard for keeping chickens since conventional cage farming was banned in 2012. Each chicken has at least 800 square centimeters available. That corresponds to the area of ​​one and a half A4 sheets. There are nests for laying eggs, a litter area and perches for sleeping. The group size is 20 to 60 hens. In 2015, the Federal Council decided to phase out the keeping of laying hens in small groups by 2025 and, in exceptional cases, not until 2028.

According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, there are around 44.5 million so-called husbandry places in Germany, of which 60 percent are free-range farming, 15.7 percent are free-range farming, 11.5 percent are farming in small groups and 8.3 percent are organic farming.

What does the marking on the egg mean?

The consumer can tell from the first digit of the stamp of origin on the egg in which way the laying hens live:

  • 0 stands for organic
  • 1 stands for free-range farming
  • 2 means floor farming
  • 3 means small group

The following letter abbreviation stands for the country of origin, for example DE for Germany, NL for the Netherlands, AT for Austria and BE for Belgium. This is followed by the number of the farm, with the first two digits identifying the federal state, the third to sixth digits the farm and the seventh digit the respective stable. More and more companies are also printing the information on the packaging or making it available on the Internet. There, consumers can type in the stamped control number, for example to see photos of the laying farm.

Which eggs do consumers access?

Every German eats an average of 235 eggs a year. According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, around 61 percent of consumers bought barn eggs in 2013, followed by free-range products with 24 percent and organic eggs with 9 percent. Only around two percent of the eggs bought came from chickens kept in small groups. However, most eggs are processed into finished products - and they often come from floor and small group husbandry.

Are Organic Eggs Healthier?

A research team from the University of Hohenheim looked into the question of whether organic eggs are healthier than eggs from barn eggs. It was found that organic eggs have a better aroma and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids because the chickens more often eat chamomile or other plants with essential oils when they are pecking in the meadow. According to scientists, the egg white of organic eggs often has a better consistency, it is firmer and more gelatinous. However, the yolk of organic eggs is smaller because the laying hens get slightly less nutrients and their color is less intense than that of eggs from barn eggs. According to the researchers, this is due to the fact that no synthetic dyes may be used as feed additives in organic farming.

Is organic farming generally better than floor farming?

Organic farming does not mean that the animals only live in small groups. According to the EU organic regulation, up to 3,000 animals can be kept in one stall. In practice, this is often circumvented by housing several herds with 3,000 animals each, separated by partition walls. Because organic producers also have to make a profit, and that is easier with large plants. Organic chickens are not necessarily happier - but animal rights activists emphasize that organic chickens have space to peck and scratch and that this is an important indicator of animal welfare. Anyone who keeps organic chickens and sells eggs from organic production must also meet a number of special requirements. For example, the animals must always be fed with organic feed. The use of genetic engineering in animal feed is prohibited. When treating the hens in case of illness, preference should be given to natural remedies and homeopathic medicines.

In conventional floor management, up to 6,000 animals are kept in one stall, spread over several floors. For the animals, this often means stress, which can also manifest itself in behavioral disorders such as cannibalism and feather pecking. Critics complain that barn hens are not kept busy because they have no green space. Behaviors such as foraging, scratching, scratching and pecking could only be practiced to a limited extent in such an attitude. The risk of illness is also higher in large farms. Antibiotics are only used if animals in the stable are sick and the veterinarian recommends this. By default, however, the drug must then be administered prophylactically to all chickens in the barn.

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What is the Bruderhahn initiative?

More than 40 million male chicks - so-called day-old chicks - are shredded or gassed every year immediately after hatching because they do not bring farmers any profit. The background to this is that high-performance hens that specialize in laying eggs are bred for the keeping of laying hens. The so-called brother chicks are inferior to the chickens from the fattening, because the animals put on little meat and very slowly. To put an end to the death of male chicks, some organic farmers founded the Bruderhahn initiative. For six months, the companies involved raise their brother taps before they are slaughtered and processed into organic ready-to-eat meals. However, the rearing, feeding and processing of the broiler cocks is more expensive than with a conventional broiler, which only lives about a month. Therefore, an egg from the initiative costs four cents more than a conventional product. In the meantime, some organic and conventional supermarkets and discounters offer eggs from companies where the male chicks are not shredded.

In order to solve the problem of the brother chicks, the organic associations Bioland and Demeter want to breed a new breed of chicken: the second-use chicken - a chicken that is bred both for laying eggs and for fattening.

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tagesschau24 | 02/20/2018 | 9:20 am

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