The marketing of eggs for human consumption must be undertaken in accordance with Regulation (EC) 1234/2007, which establishes a common organisation of agricultural markets and specific provisions for certain agricultural products (the Single CMO Regulation), and Regulation (EC) 589/2008, which sets out the detailed rules for the implementation of the Single CMO Regulation so far as marketing standards for eggs are concerned. The domestic legislation governing enforcement is contained in the Eggs and Chicks (England) Regulations 20091 which also contains a number of permitted derogations.2
Almost all laying hen establishments must be registered. A unique identification number is allocated to every registered establishment and nearly all eggs marketed for retail sale in the EU carry a code which identifies the establishment, country of origin and method of production.
2 Registration of Establishments
Under The Registration of Establishments (Laying Hens) (England) Regulations 20033 a producer is required to register4 an establishment at which 350 or more laying hens are kept with the Egg Marketing Inspectorate (EMI). This requirement applies to caged, barn, free-range or organic egg production and ‘laying hens’ means hens of the species Gallus gallus which have reached maturity and are kept for the production of eggs not intended for hatching.5
Registration with the EMI is also required where:
There are 50 or more laying hens and eggs are marketed at local public markets.
Eggs are marketed to registered packing centres.
Where eggs are sold to shops, catering establishments, bakeries and similar outlets they must be graded ‘Class A’ which requires approval and authorisation as a packing centre.6 Packing centres must have the technical equipment necessary to ensure that eggs are handled properly which should include as appropriate:
- Suitable candling equipment, automatic or continuously staffed, allowing the quality of each egg to be examined separately, or other appropriate equipment.
- Devices for measuring the height of the air space.
- Equipment for grading eggs by weight.
- One or more approved balances for weighing eggs.
- Equipment for marking eggs.
A producer is not required to register an establishment where:
There are less than 350 laying hens at an establishment and all the eggs are sold on the production site or by door-to-door selling in the region of production.
There are less than 50 laying hens and some eggs are sold at local public markets.
In the above, the 2009 Regulations define7 ‘door-to-door selling’ as a sale made during an unsolicited visit by a producer to the final consumer’s home, or to the home of another person, or to the final consumer’s place of work.
A ‘local public market’ means a public market that is within an 80 km radius of the boundary of the production site and where a public market is partly within an 80 km radius of the boundary of the production site and partly outside, the whole of that market.
A ‘region’ means an electoral region8 and ‘region of production’ means:
Where the production site at which eggs are produced is in one region, it is the area within an 80 km radius of the boundary of the production site, and any part of that region that is outside that 80 km radius.
Where the production site is partly in one region and partly in one or more other regions it is the area within an 80 km radius of the boundary of the production site, and any part of the largest region into which the site falls outside that 80 km radius.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency has produced a useful flowchart outlining the requirements placed on egg producers in regard to registration, egg marketing and egg stamping.
On registration the producer receives a unique number comprised of a digit indicating the method of production, followed by the code of the Member State (‘UK’ in the case of the United Kingdom) and a unique identification number for the establishment. The method of production is indicated by the digits:
1 Free range
The result is a code in the format 1UK99999 which is unique to the establishment or farm.
In addition, any person who keeps 50 or more birds, not just laying hens, at any one premises must notify the following details to the Secretary of State:9
The address and holding number (if it has one) of the premises.
His/her name and address and, if different, that of the owner of the poultry and the occupier of the premises.
The species kept at the premises.
The husbandry system or systems in use at the premises, including whether poultry are kept for the production of meat, hatching eggs or eggs for consumption.
The number of each species of poultry usually kept at the premises.
The incubator capacity of any hatchery.
Details of any seasonal stocking variations which might result in significant differences in the numbers or species of poultry on the premises.
The number of each species of poultry with access to the open air.
The presence on or in the vicinity of the premises of any body of water which attracts wild birds.
Any person who keeps less than 50 birds is encouraged to provide notification on a voluntary basis.
3 Hygiene Rules
3.1 Primary Production Rules
‘Primary production’ means the production, rearing or growing of primary products including harvesting, milking and farmed animal production prior to slaughter. It also includes hunting and fishing and the harvesting of wild products.10 Regulation (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs defines ‘primary products’11 and sets out general arrangements for food business operators carrying out primary production and related activities. ‘Primary products’ means products of primary production including products of the soil, of stock farming, of hunting and fishing, and therefore includes eggs.
The general duty placed on the food business operator is, as far as possible, to ensure that primary products are protected against contamination, having regard to any processing that primary products will subsequently undergo. The general arrangements apply to the transport, storage and handling of eggs at the place of production.
Hygiene rules in relation to primary production are more extensively covered in the document on Food Hygiene. The specific provisions applying to eggs are highlighted here.
Whilst at the production site and until sale to the consumer, eggs must be kept clean, dry, free of extraneous odour, effectively protected from shocks and out of direct sunshine. They must be stored and transported until sale at a temperature, preferably constant, best suited to the optimal conservation of their hygiene properties. Eggs must be delivered to the consumer within a maximum time limit of 21 days from the date of laying.12
Class A eggs must not be washed or cleaned before or after grading13 and must not be treated for preservation. Eggs must be kept clean, dry and out of direct sunshine at all times.
The direct supply, by the producer, of small quantities of primary products to the final consumer or to local retail establishments directly supplying the final consumer is exempt from the provisions of Regulation (EC) 852/2004 and Regulation (EC) 853/2004. The ban on the retail sales of cracked eggs14 was introduced to prohibit the retail sale of cracked eggs by producers on their own farms, in local public markets or by door to door selling because of the potential food safety risk from such products. The Regulations were, however, considered redundant and, with effect from 6 April 2013, were repealed.15 The Food Standards Agency (FSA) takes the view that there is an equivalent level of public health protection achieved under general food law, which prohibits the sale or supply of unsafe food and since cracked eggs are considered inherently unsafe, sales are prohibited.
3.2 Temperature Controls
Class A eggs must not be chilled in premises or plants where the temperature is artificially maintained at less than 5°C. Eggs which have been kept at a temperature below 5°C during transport for not more than 24 hours or in retail premises for not more than 72 hours are not to be considered chilled.16
These provisions are aimed at reducing the risk of bacterial infection in eggs which may result from cold eggs being left at room temperature and the consequent condensation likely to form on their shells.
While eggs should not be chilled during marketing, to minimise risks to quality and safety that may arise due to temperature variations, eggs should be kept chilled once purchased by the final consumer to maximise quality.17
4 Marketing Standards
The 2009 Regulations apply to eggs in shell for consumption which are produced by hens of the species Gallus gallus, but do not apply where the eggs are sold, without any quality or weight grading, directly to the final consumer by the producer:
On the production site or by door-to-door selling in the region of production.18
In a local public market in the region of production, provided that the name and address of the producer are indicated at the point of sale consumer advice to keep eggs chilled after purchase is provided along with a best before date (maximum 28 days from date of laying) for the eggs.19
All eggs must be graded for quality20 as follows:
Class A (or ‘fresh’)
Class A eggs must have the following quality characteristics:
Shell and cuticle: normal shape, clean and undamaged.
Air space: height not exceeding 6 mm (4mm where eggs are marketed as ‘extra’), stationary.
Yolk: visible on candling as a shadow only, without clearly discernible outline, slightly mobile upon turning the egg, and returning to a central position.
White: clear, translucent.
Germ: imperceptible development.
Foreign matter: not permissible.
Foreign smell: not permissible.
Further details regarding the standard required for an egg to be marketed as Class A can be found in the Egg Quality Guide.
Class B eggs are those which do not meet the above Class A quality characteristics.
Class A eggs must also be graded by weight,21 except in the case of eggs delivered to the food and non-food industry. Class B eggs can only be delivered to the food and non-food industry.
XL – very large 73g and more
L – large 63g up to 73g
M – medium 53g up to 63g
S – small under 53g
The weight grading must be indicated by the corresponding letters or terms indicated above or a combination of both, which may be supplemented by the corresponding weight ranges.
Only packing centres can grade, pack and label eggs22 which must be done within 10 days (4 days in the case of ‘extra’ or ‘extra fresh’ eggs) of laying with the minimum durability date, which must not exceed 28 days after laying,23 applied at the same time.24
Packs containing Class A eggs must display25 on the outside and in clearly legible type:
a) The packing centre code.
b) The quality grading either by the words ‘Class A’ or the letter ‘A’, whether alone or in combination with the word ‘fresh’.
c) The weight grading.
d) The date of minimum durability, a ‘best before’ date.
e) A special storage condition26 advising consumers to keep eggs chilled after purchase.
f) The method of production – ‘organic eggs’, ‘free range eggs’, ‘barn eggs’ or ‘eggs from caged hens’.
g) An explanation of the meaning of the producer code.
Where loose egg sales are involved, the information indicated in paragraphs b), c), d), f) and g) must be provided in a manner which is easily visible and clearly legible.
5 Free Range Eggs
Hens must have continuous daytime access to open-air runs (livestock grazing is authorised on open-air runs to which laying hens have access28) subject to restricting access for a limited period of time in the morning hours in accordance with usual good farming practice, including good animal husbandry practice. Where any restrictions, including veterinary restrictions, are in place to protect public and animal health, have the effect of restricting the access of hens to open-air runs, eggs may continue to be marketed as ‘free-range eggs’ for the duration of the restriction, but under no circumstances for more than 12 weeks.
Open-air runs to which hens have access must be mainly covered with vegetation and not be used for other purposes except for orchards, woodland and livestock grazing if the latter is authorised by the competent authorities.
The maximum stocking density of open-air runs must not be greater than 2,500 hens per hectare of ground available to the hens or one hen per 4 m2 at all times. However, where at least 10 m2 per hen is available and where rotation is practised and hens are given even access to the whole area over the flock’s life, each paddock used must at any time assure at least 2.5 m2 per hen.
Open-air runs must not extend beyond a radius of 150 m from the nearest pophole of the building. However, an extension of up to 350 m from the nearest pophole of the building is permissible provided that a sufficient number of shelters29 are evenly distributed throughout the whole open-air run with at least four shelters per hectare.
Where there are less than 350 laying hens at an establishment, the 2009 Regulations make a number of derogations from the above which mean full compliance is not required to market eggs as ‘free range eggs’.30
6 Organic Eggs
The rules governing organic egg production are covered by individual certifying bodies within the UK in accordance with the requirements of Regulation (EC) 834/2007 on organic production and the labelling of organic products. The rules may vary between certifying bodies since some may require a higher standard than others in certain areas. The Soil Association, for example, has a set of organic standards31 built on the EU’s requirements which in many instances are more demanding.
This is a subject addressed more fully in Growing and Selling: Organic Production.
1 SI 2163/2009
2 Ibid., rr 7, 11, 13 and 14
4 Registration is free and administered by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency to whom any application on form EMR2B is made and submitted to the appropriate Egg Marketing Inspectorate Administrative Centre.
8 Listed in the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, Schedule 1
17 Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Guidance on Legislation Covering the Marketing of Eggs, EMR1 (Rev. 06/12), page 7, para 15
19 Ibid., r8(3) and Regulation (EC) 1234/2007, Annex XIV, Part A, point III(3)
22 Ibid., Article 5
23 Ibid., Article 13
24 Ibid., Article 6
25 Ibid., Article 12
27 Ibid., Annex II
29 Directive 1999/74/EC, Article 4(1)(3)(b)(ii)