“free-range” eggs that are not

Take this carton of eggs: it basically says Outdoors » ; in the photo, a hen pecks freely in a meadow ; on the shell, the code 1 — which means outdoor breeding » — is stamped.

Three reassuring signs for anyone who wants to make an omelet with a product that respects animal welfare. Better still, you can opt for eggs with the organic label or the Label Rouge, both of which also guarantee access for the hens to a outdoor route ». But all that was before the outbreak of avian influenza — commonly known as Avian Flu ».

1. Can these labels still be trusted? ?

No, says Sylvie Colas, spokesperson for the Confédération paysanne du Gers. Avian flu has become an endemic disease. We are obliged to confine our poultry 8 months out of 12 », is alarmed the breeder of organic ducks. The avian influenza epidemic has been particularly virulent since November 2021. This summer, it continued to rage in wildlife, and is now picking up again in farms.

As of September 30, there were eighteen outbreaks of contamination in breeding and fourteen in the barnyard, in eleven departments. Facing the unfavorable development of the situation »the government has decided to raise the risk level of weak » at moderate » throughout France since October 2. The sheltering of poultry is becoming compulsory in many territories. This is the case in Brittany, Normandy, Vendée… Organic farms in these areas therefore sell eggs from hens that have not been outside. People can’t relatedenounces Sylvie Colas. The sanction will fall and it will come from the consumers. Why would they pay more if they are unsure of what they are buying ? »

2. How do I know if my egg comes (or not) from confined breeding? ?

Fortunately, all poultry in France are not currently confined. But it is almost impossible to know if the egg you are eating comes from a hen that has breathed fresh air or not. It all depends on the area where the farm is located, the policy applied by the department and what the breeder himself decides.

When an outbreak of avian influenza is detected, all farms in the municipality concerned and those located within a radius of up to 20 km are automatically subject to confinement. A temporary control area » can also be decided by the prefects: the poultry are authorized to leave provided that the route is reduced to a restricted area and that analyzes are carried out regularly to guarantee the appearance “healthy” poultry », explains the Organic Agency. Some breeders may therefore prefer to keep their animals sheltered rather than carry out these restrictive analyses.

With the avian flu, the sheltering of the poultry becomes obligatory in many territories. Pexels/CC/Ivan BabydovIvan Babydov

Conversely, in areas where sheltering is imposed, breeders decide not to lock up their gallinaceans. This is the case for many members of the Confédération paysanne, warns Sylvie Colas. Not to mention that the situation is changing daily and that after twenty-one days without new bird mortality, a confined area can be deconfined…

3. Is it legal to use the words “ outdoors » or organic when the hen has remained cloistered in her henhouse ?

Yes ! An organic breeder who confines can absolutely continue to use the organic designation, explains the Agence bio, since it is for health reasons imposed by the State. The consumer is not informed, the egg marking is not modified ». The European regulation of organic agriculture provides in fact that laying hens and fattening poultry have access to free-range space for at least one third of their life, except where temporary restrictions have been imposed ». Even if in France, outside the bird flu period, laying hens must go out no later than 25 weeks (175 days), and from 11 a.m. minimum until dusk, specifies the National Federation of Organic Agriculture (Fnab ).

In Label Rouge breeding, the specifications impose an outdoor course, but the breeders have obtained a derogation until October 15, 2022.

For the other eggs outdoors », the rules are more subtle. The European regulation of 23 June 2008 on the marketing standards applicable to eggs provides that the latter can be marketed as“free range eggs” […] provided that the access of laying hens to outdoor areas has not been restricted for a continuous period of more than sixteen weeks ».

It is very difficult to know if the egg comes from a hen that breathed fresh air or not. Publicdomainpictures/CC0/Circe Denyer

Problem: this four-month period was largely exceeded during the year 2022 in many regions. Eggs outdoors » should normally have lost their name. Never mind, the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) granted a waiver. Producers and distributors can therefore continue to use the designation outdoors ». Information must appear at the entrance to each store and at any point of sale, as well as in the department store “eggs” », specifies Loïc Coulombel, vice-president of the National committee for the promotion of the egg (CNPO). But you have to get up at matinees to find the information… Often, large distributors are content to affix a simple A4 sheet somewhere on the shelf.

Free-range hens are temporarily confined at the request of the authorities “, indicated Carrefour, September 16, 2022. © Fabienne Loiseau / Reporterre

In this hypermarket, Carrefour writes: Free-range hens (code 0 and 1) are temporarily confined at the request of the authorities. » On the drive of the same hyper, on the other hand, no allusion to confinement. The Repression of fraud did not wish to answer our questions related to avian flu, advising us to contact the Ministry of Agriculture. He writes to us: With regard to in-store display, this subject falls within the competence of the DGCCRF. »

And for their part, do the brands seek to know whether the eggs they distribute – whether they are their own brand or national brands – come from hens raised in the open air? ? Carrefour directs us to the Trade and Distribution Federation (DCF), which sends us back to… the distributor. Auchan also did not wish to respond to Reporterre on this topic.

4. Why not change egg codes or labels ?

Take the example of the Farmers of Loué. All their eggs, organic or Label rouge, generally display the mention Freedom » and boast an outdoor course twice as large as the specifications.

During the 2021-2022 season, this designation continued to be used even though the cocottes were assigned to the hen house. It takes months and months to change a packaging », justifies Pascal Vaugarny, executive assistant for the Farmers of Loué. The deadlines are incompatible, according to him, with the uncertainty linked to the evolution of avian influenza. For him, the outer course is only one element among others ». He insists : A Rented egg is a free-range egg. It is first of all a mode of production which takes into account the size of the breeding, the buildings, the food and its origin, etc. » Same position of Synalaf, national union of poultry labels in France, organic and Label Rouge eggs have many other additional qualities than free-range, so it would also be misleading to change their code ».

This is not the opinion of our Belgian neighbours, for whom information to the customer must be as fair as possible: during periods of confinement of more than sixteen weeks, producers are required to use boxes no mention of which refers to free-range breeding ». The authorities leave them the choice: either to use boxes referring to the breeding on the ground ; either delete all mentions outdoors » or cover them with a tablet To protect myself, I lay under cover ». Furthermore, all these eggs must be stamped with the code 2 (floor rearing).

In Belgium, lozenges To protect myself, I lay under cover » are put in place to cover the mentions « outdoors “. © Belgian Ministry of Commerce

Nothing that seems insurmountable for Gallic hens… So why do French producers continue to use a statement that can be misleading? ? On this issue, the Ministry of Agriculture considers that the industry complies with marketing regulations and standards. He explains to us that under certain conditions »It’s possible that the animals can still continue to go outside, although on a reduced route ». Except that consumers are not informed.

Favorable to the maintenance of outdoor breeding the most possible »Synalaf has requested an adaptation of the current sheltering measures: The minister contacted the National Health Security Agency (Anses) to find out if this can change. »

In the meantime, the European Commission is said to be working to relax the regulations on free-range eggs. According to several of our interlocutors and certain specialized media, it could propose to align it with that of organic eggs, in other words to impose an outdoor course only over a certain period of life. the outdoors » is really in danger of being nothing more than empty words.

The difficult traceability of eggs for the French

There would be a way to know if the egg we eat comes from a farm located in a confined area or not: by using the producer code stamped on it. This code — which appears after the farming mode code (0,1, 2 or 3) and the country of origin (FR) — consists of two parts: the letters indicate the breeding site and the number corresponds to the building where the bird was raised.

In theory, the list of breeding sites is accessible to all, all you have to do is make a request to the Ministry of Agriculture. », explains Hélène Gauche, head of the agri-food division of L214. In 2015, the association worked from this base for a survey of eggs from caged hens sold in supermarkets. But you have to be patient. The last time we asked for it, we had to wait six months, with reminders, to get it. » Too bad that France does not take Canada as a model. There, the site Enter your code, discover your farm allows you to find the breeder of the hen in a few clicks.

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