What makes an egg organic? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.02.2013
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What makes an egg organic?

Following the horsemeat, it's the eggs. Just before Easter a new scandal has emerged: farmers are accused of selling their eggs as free-range or organic while crowding their chickens at illegal levels.

When you buy eggs in a European supermarket, you'll find a code stamped on each egg which tells you the country and farm it comes from, as well as whether it comes from organically farmed, free range or caged hens.

The European Union has strict rules for how much space chickens require for each type of farming. But the latest scandal alleges that, throughout Germany, too many chickens have been squeezed into too small a space. Prosecutors in the state of Lower Saxony say they're investigating 150 farms.

Joyce Moewius of the German Association of the Organic Food Industry (BÖLW) says she believes the problem has been that farms have kept too many chickens, rather than that eggs have been declared retrospectively as coming from the wrong kind of farm.

"The investigations are continuing, but this is the only information we have so far from the prosecutors," she says. "We waiting for more news."

Really organic?

According to the prosecutor, the scandal mainly affects eggs declared as free-range, and not organic. But, if the allegations are true, the effect on the producers of organic eggs will be particularly hard. That's because the word "organic" promises consumers that they're getting eggs from the happiest chickens of all. Standards are defined by the EU and qualified eggs carry the special EU seal of organic quality.

Eggs in a carton with different codes Photo: Roland Weihrauch dpa

The codes should tell you more about the eggs - but can you trust them?

These eggs should come from chickens which are able to feed themselves with organic feed, and have enough space to run around in. They get four square meters each out of doors, and a sixth of a square meter in their sheds. In comparison, a free-range hen only get a ninth of a square meter in its shed.

Not every organic seal means the same

In addition to the EU organic seal, several associations, such as Bioland, Demeter or Naturland, offer their own standards, which are above those of the EU.

Gerald Whede works for Bioland, and says they place special emphasis on animal health. They also require three elements in the farm instead of the usual two: "In addition to the shed and the open space, we give the chickens a roofed-over space in between, a kind of winter garden."

Such eggs can't be found in supermarkets - they are only available in organic shops.

"We deliberately cut out discount markets like Aldi," says Whede. Bioland, like the other premium organic associations, wants to stay at the top end of the market: high quality, no discount prices, honest organic food.

However, one of the organizations, Naturland, has admitted that some of the farms it checks are currently under investigation by the prosecutors.

Whede is convinced that the current scandal is based on systematic deception. He wants those responsible to lose their organic status for good.

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