Organic egg producers crying fowl on EU regulations

Consumers did not know organic automatically meant free range

Organic egg producers are in a flap over an European Commission rule on egg packaging that prevents them from labelling their eggs as both organic and free range. All organic egg producers operate free-range enterprises but they fear that if the carton does not say "free range", consumers will assume they are not free range.

Organic standards are stricter than free-range standards with a limit of six hens per square metre for organic producers, compared with seven for free-range producers.

Two years ago the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association sought and received confirmation from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that organic producers could use the free-range label on their produce, as long as they had free-range status and held an organic licence.


However, the Department of Agriculture’s egg and poultry inspectorate recently sought clarification from the European Commission on the issue and found that both terms could not be used.


A spokesman for the department said the clarification stated that “only one farming method can be marked on the pack of eggs and indicated in the producer code”. He said the department was also told adding “free range” after the term “organic” could confuse the consumers.

The organic association's manager Gillian Westbrook said this was "hugely discriminating" against the 40 or so Irish organic egg producers and would only result in confusion. She said consumers did not know that organic automatically meant free range when it came to eggs. "And to be organic is a lot more than free range," she said. Organic egg producers cannot use GM-feed and there are major restrictions on antibiotic use and veterinary treatments.


Ms Westbrook said the European Commission had missed the rationale of marketing standards “which is to inform the consumer of a specific production method without having to educate people on it. Free range is probably the most commonly-known marketing standard there is and organic producers cannot use it.”

She said the only option was to take a case to the European Court of Justice for legal interpretation. “We are still considering what to do next.”

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times