SGO: Free range and organic eggs, what’s the difference?

We have all heard of and seen free range and organic eggs on sale in our local supermarkets, and may know that they are ethical and sustainable but what are the key differences between these two products?

Bore Place151
Photograph ©Rebecca Douglas, taken at Bore Place

  1. ETHOS. Free-range is a method of food production whereas organic producers use a production system which works in total harmony with the environment and nature. Therefore, organic farmers carefully think about the effects their work has on the welfare of their animals and the wider environment.This may include the maintenance of habitats for helpful predators such as birds and insects.
  2. FEED. Usually, free range producers feed their flocks with standard feeds such as those which are used in battery production units, however, the feed most contain at least 70% of cereals. There are no other requirements regarding the GM status of these foods. Whereas, in certified organic production there are far stricter regulations. They must use certified organic grain based feeds which are free from specific additives.
  3. VETERINARY PRACTICES. The regular feeding of antibiotics to birds is a normal practice in conventional rearing systems including free-range. On the other hand, organic producers are prohibited from giving antibiotics to healthy birds. When veterinary treatments are needed, these must be prescribed by the veterinary surgeon and their use is strictly controlled by the Organic Standards.
  4. LIFESPAN. The average lifespan of a conventional or free range bird is 56 days for a chicken and 70 days for a turkey. An organic bird, however, will live on average twice that time, 81 days for a chicken, 140 days for a turkey. This added time results in a slower growing bird, with less pressure put on the legs and therefore less injuries.
  5. HOUSING DENSITIES. The housing density for free range birds is 27.5kg/sq m, whereas, organic birds must be stocked in housing densities of 21kg/ sq m.
  6. INSPECTION AND AUDIT. Free-range producers are inspected to check they have adequate conditions but organic poultry farmers have mandatory inspections, at least once annually and often have unannounced spot-check inspections.

Overall, free range does offer the birds to access open air runs but this is really the only significant difference between free range production and conventional production. On the other hand, organic poultry producers are subject to strict organic principles which show concern for the welfare of the animals and wider environment.

So, there’s the main differences between free range and organic birds and therefore the eggs they produce. Now you know when you see them on the supermarket shelves and make your selection!

To find out more information about free range and organic, visit the Organic Trust website.

by student blogger, Natalie Blower


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