Animal welfare activists yesterday urged the government to amend regulations on eggs, demanding clear labeling on egg packaging to protect consumers’ right to choose healthy eggs.
Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) director Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏) said that while Taiwanese eat an average of 290 eggs a year and a total of about 6.7 billion eggs are produced every year in Taiwan, about 99 percent are produced from hens kept in battery cages — which usually hold four or five hens in an area with a floor space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper.
“Many scientific research reports show that a good production system is a key factor in producing high-quality eggs,” she said, adding that the natural environment for hens should include outdoor space to allow them to walk, indoor space for them to rest and safe boxes in which to lay eggs, and that “it is hardly possible for unhealthy hens to produce healthy eggs.”
However, an EAST survey of 66 egg items bought in chain hypermarkets, supermarkets and convenience stores last month showed that 85 percent did not reveal their production system, while 25 percent wrote the distributor brand or “Taiwan” as the source, but failed to disclose the specific egg farms.
Only 15 percent of egg packages identified the production system, and the wordings were confusing, without standard definitions, Chen said, adding that the general classification of egg production systems used around the world used classifications like battery cage, enriched cage, barn, free-range and organic.
In addition, Chen said the group found at least 15 types of certification marks on the 66 brand packages, but information on the examination methods are unknown to the public and only four marks are based on legal regulations, making it difficult for consumers to make informed choices.
Animal Protection Section chief Lin Tsung-Yi (林宗毅) of the Council of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Industry said it took the EU about 20 years to abandon battery cages, so although the council supports more humane and healthier hen breeding methods, the transformation would increase production costs for egg farmers and egg prices for consumers.
Moreover, because 99 percent of eggs in Taiwan are produced by hens kept in battery cages, providing information on the production system on egg packages would be of limited significance, he said.
Free-range egg farmer Wu Kuo-ming (吳國民), who breeds 500 hens on all-natural food and allows them to run freely on a 3 hectare farm in Hualien County’s Shueilian Village (水璉), said the cost of raising free-range eggs was higher, but the eggs are free from chemical substances and taste better, with a thicker texture.
Free-range egg farmer Chang Chin-yi (張進義), from Hualien County’s Fengshan Village (豐山), said free-range eggs differed from eggs produced by battery-caged hens because the hens eat natural food and are not raised under stressful conditions, while battery caged hens eat feed that contains chemicals and are are prone to infections due to their crowded environment.