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Eggs

Ethical and environmental rankings for 43 brands of eggs and vegan egg alternatives. 

Is it ethical to eat eggs? We investigate egg labelling, vegan egg substitutes, the carbon impact of egg production, and the differences between cage, barn, free range, biodynamic and organic eggs.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying eggs or eggs replacer:

  • Are they organic or biodynamic eggs? Look for the highest organic welfare standard, Soil Association or Demeter-certified eggs.

  • Is it an egg replacer? Does what an egg does without the animal rights issues.

     

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What not to buy

What to avoid when buying eggs:

  • Are the eggs from ‘enriched’ caged hens? Not much better than battery eggs. Avoid at all costs.

  • Are they free range eggs? The minimum standards mean that often hens are not really free range and may not even go outdoors, so they may be little better than those kept indoors in a barn. Go for organic standard eggs, which ensures better conditions.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

Is it ethical to eat eggs at all? 

Many people would argue that it is not ethical to keep hens for eggs as animals are not ours to use in any way. Whatever the conditions they are kept in; free range, organic or in your backyard, hens are still treated as commodities

Plus there are environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution from egg farms, and soya in the feed linked to deforestation in South America.

For many vegans, the very concept of an ethical egg is impossible. Animal rights group Peta argues that females’ rights over their own reproductive systems should be respected, no matter the species, asking: “Can you call yourself a feminist if you eat eggs?

If animal rights are important to you then not buying eggs might be the right choice, because even the highest welfare organic eggs, or eggs from a small farm where you can see the hens running around in the field, still mean hens are treated as commodities for our use.

On the other hand, you might think that buying eggs from a small farmer that keeps hens in the biodynamic way is OK and minimises animal welfare and environmental issues.

Likewise for keeping hens yourself, but not many of us have the space to do that adequately – they need regular supply of fresh pasture and if you are keeping them penned in, it’s still some sort of cage. (If you are going to keep hens, better to get rescue hens. Contact British Hen Welfare Trust.)

If not buying processed food, like ready-made vegan egg replacers, is your priority, you can always opt for the individual, less processed egg replacer ingredients such as flaxseeds or aquafaba, depending on what it is you're making.

 

Animal welfare in egg production

Over 60% of the world’s eggs, that is from nearly 4.5 billion hens, are still produced in industrialised systems, mainly battery cages. Whilst progress may have been made in the UK, there are still animal rights and welfare issues associated with eggs, even ‘good’ ones. Plus, there is still the carbon and environmental impact.

The modern laying hen has been selected from jungle fowl and, as the name suggests, they’ve evolved in a woodland environment where there is lots of cover and trees around. In the wild, hens live in a flock with a rooster and naturally lay 10-15 eggs per year, but farmed hens have been bred to lay 250-300 eggs a year.

A hens natural lifespan is 5-10 years, but farmed hens are ‘spent’ and killed after 72 weeks – that’s around 1.5 years – when their egg production begins to wane. At a hen’s lowest lifespan, that’s equivalent to a human being ‘spent’ at 24 years of age.

Male chicks are of no use for egg or meat production and are killed almost immediately after hatching. They are either thrown into an industrial grinder (‘macerator’) while still alive or gassed to death, the preferred method in the UK.

All of this may make you want to reconsider your daily egg and use vegan egg replacers instead.

 

Two images showing difference between hens in field and in reality in overcrowdedbarn
The expectations of consumers of Happy Eggs compared with reality.

Types of egg sold in the UK 

In 2020, there were 42 million hens in the UK laying 11 billion eggs.

There are four different systems and standards ranging from worst to best: enriched caged, barn, free range, and organic.

Free range is the most common type of eggs sold in the UK:

  • enriched cage - 27.5% of eggs sold
  • barn - 1.5% of eggs sold
  • free range - 69% of eggs sold
  • organic - 2% of eggs sold

If you choose to eat eggs we recommend that you go for the highest welfare standard, which is 'Soil Association organic'. But you may think that the standards are not high enough to justify even that choice.

 

Infographic showing relative space for hens whether battery, caged, free range or organic
The relative indoor space a hen has

Enriched cage eggs

Modified battery cages, or ‘enriched’ cages, are little better than the battery cages they replaced in 2012. These caged hens only have an extra postcard-sized amount of space more than battery hens. They don’t have access to the outside or even windows to let light in.

These cages are called ‘enriched’ because they include features such as a scratch area, perch and nest box; but with only 4 nest boxes per 80 hens there is fighting and bullying by the dominant hens at the top of the pecking order. The scratching area is usually AstroTurf, and hens can’t fly, jump, dustbathe, sunbathe or even spread their wings. The cages are stacked on top of each other. Beak trimming is routine.

When sold, these eggs are labelled ‘eggs from caged hens’, and the egg box is not allowed to feature ‘farm’ descriptions, farmyard or countryside scenes nor pictures of hens roaming freely.

Back in 2016, many UK supermarkets and food retailers committed to stop selling eggs from enriched systems by 2025. The sea change away from caged units has not been driven by legislation but by consumer demand. But it’s not an ambitious target. They will have had nine years to replace this ultra-low welfare system. Enriched cages are already banned in Luxembourg and Austria.

Co-op, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose stopped selling cage eggs a long time ago and only sell free range or organic now. But the following supermarkets still make money from hens kept in these cages: Aldi, ASDA, Iceland, Lidl, Spar and Tesco.

The UK’s largest egg producer, Noble Foods, is the only other company in this guide to sell enriched cage eggs. One of its egg farms houses a million birds.

Barn eggs

Barn eggs have very similar minimum standards as free range hens but, like caged hens, they don’t have access to the outside and live their short lives indoors.

There are not many barn eggs on sale at the moment (only Big & Fresh in this guide), but when enriched cages are banned in 2025, it’s likely that the egg industry will move to the barn system for ‘affordable’ eggs.

Free range eggs

There is a common misconception that free range eggs involve hens roaming outside, happy and free.

Welfare standards can vary wildly between different free range producers, from small-scale egg farmers with hens in a field to industrial producers who adhere to the minimum standards.

The minimum standards mean that many free range hens are kept in vast, multi-tiered sheds typically with 16,000 or more other birds, few of which ever see daylight. They must be given some kind of daytime outside access, but in such confined spaces only few birds are ever able to actually make it outside.

And outside may not be the rural idyll you imagine – it might be a barren space with little or no vegetation. Free range might mean cage-free, but EU legislation stipulates that as many as nine birds can occupy one square metre of floor space. That’s roughly twice as much space as a battery hen, but still like 14 human adults living in a one-room flat.

Beak trimming is standard free range practice so that hens in close confinement don’t peck each other.

Hens are given ‘enrichments’ to help them express their natural behaviours (which speaks volumes about the unnatural conditions these hens are kept in). Enrichments include things like pecking blocks, plastic toys and, ironically, cardboard egg boxes.

PETA have been running a campaign against the bestselling free range egg brand – Happy Eggs, owned by Noble Foods. They found that conditions on some of their free range farms were a far cry from the happy hens in green fields on their marketing materials. Peta found overcrowded and filthy sheds, with only two pieces of enrichment – a plastic bottle and a bale of hay – for every thousand birds, which most of them were not even able to access.

Organic eggs

Organic hens are the gold standard according to Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). They are 'free range plus'. The key additional welfare measures are:

  • they live in smaller flocks – a maximum of 3,000 birds
  • they have 50% more indoor space than a free range hen
  • feed must be GM free
  • no routine use of antibiotics.

But within organic certifications, Soil Association organic standards go further than other certifications like OF&G (Organic Farmers & Growers):

  • more than double the outside space
  • no beak trimming
  • more exits from the hen house to encourage outside access
  • access to the outdoors from a younger age to encourage a more free range life
  • vegetation must contain trees, shrubs and long grasses to imitates a hen’s natural environment.

Most of the organic egg brands on sale in the UK are certified by OF&G. Only four brands in this guide were Soil Association-certified organic eggs: Riverford, Clarence Court Organic Leghorn Whites, Stonegate Estate, and Waitrose Duchy Organic.

Illustration of box of eggs with supermarket names on
Many supermarkets are still selling eggs from caged hens

Price comparison of the different egg standards

Cage and barn eggs are usually sold as ‘affordable’ and ‘value’ eggs.

The highest-welfare eggs, Soil Association organic certified, are at least twice the price of free range but not that much more than the lower organic standard from OF&G.

Sainsbury’s dropped Soil Association-certified eggs in 2014 in favour of Organic Farmers & Growers because higher welfare standards mean they cost more to produce. The Sainsbury’s supplier said that for most consumers, “organic is organic and they aren’t prepared to pay an additional premium”. But they're not that much more: 3p per egg.

Price per eggs produced by different standards
6 pack Price per box Price per egg
Tesco from caged hens £0.79 13p
Tesco free range £0.89 15p
Big & Fresh barn eggs £1.15 19p
Tesco organic (OF&G) £1.80 30p
Waitrose Duchy Organic (Soil Association)** £2.00 33p
Riverford organic (Soil Association)** £2.65 44p
Stonegate Estate organic (Soil Association)* £2.79 46p
Clarence Court organic (Soil Association) * £3.00 50p

Prices from Tesco website in November 2021 unless: * from Ocado, **own websites

Biodynamic eggs

All biodynamic farmers practice organic methods of production and share very similar certification standards. Organic and biodynamic also share similar aims and ideals, but biodynamics has metaphysical and spiritual roots that organics does not.

Biodynamic farming means that a holistic approach is used to tend to the land, whereby the farm is seen as a whole living entity that’s self-sustaining. A fundamental principle which a biodynamic farm works towards is a 'closed loop' system that does not need to buy in feed or fertiliser from external suppliers.

Typically, biodynamic hens are kept in more natural environments: small flocks with roosters; locally grown feed; and moveable houses so that they have fresh pasture. They are ‘dual-purpose’ breeds, rather than selectively bred laying hens, which means that the male chicks can be raised for meat, rather than killed as chicks.

None of the brands we have covered produce biodynamic eggs, but the Biodynamic Association website lists 13 small, regional farms supplying them.

Check out your nearest supplier on the UK Biodynamic Association website.

Abel & Cole also sell biodynamic eggs.
 

White hens in field
Hens raised according to biodynamic principles
infographic showing price and protein difference between eggs and nuts

Price of alternative forms of protein

Paying the real cost for highest-welfare eggs may mean that people have to buy fewer eggs and look to alternative forms of protein.

An egg has on average 6g of protein, but one serving of the following non-animal proteins all have the same amount or more:

  • chick pea flour-based egg replacer (like Orgran)
  • 3 tablespoons (120g) of baked beans, chick peas or lentils
  • 5 tbsp (185g) of quinoa
  • 100g of tofu
  • a handful (30g) of peanuts.

In terms of price comparison with an egg, the cost* of alternative proteins is as follows:

  • vegan replacer for one egg is 21p
  • 120g baked beans is 24p
  • 120g lentils is 22p
  • 30g of unsalted peanuts is 20p

(*All prices from Tesco website.)

So, alternative proteins are comparable to barn or free range eggs. They don’t beat the ultra-low cost (and ultra-low hen welfare) of caged eggs, but these will not be an option from 2025.

Vegan egg replacers / substitutes

What is a vegan egg? Vegan egg replacers are a simple way to avoid the animal rights and environmental issues associated with eggs.

You literally just swap each egg for a quantity of the egg replacer. The only egg dishes that they can’t replace are boiled, poached or fried eggs. But there are recipes for making vegan versions of these using other ingredients like tofu or vegan Quorn, with black salt, mustard and nutritional yeast flavourings.

We have rated four ready-made egg replacers which can be bought in supermarkets and health food shops. They are all vegan so get an extra Product Sustainability mark.

  • Oggs Aquafaba – for biscuits, cakes, ice cream, mayo, dressings, brownies, doughnuts, buns, muffins, meringues. Made from 100% liquid chick pea extract.
  • Orgran Vegan Easy Egg – for cooking (scrambled eggs, omelette, frittata, quiche). Made from chick pea flour.
  • Orgran No Egg Egg Replacer – for baking (cakes, pancakes, meringues). Made from potato and tapioca starch.
  • Free & Easy egg replacer – for baking (e.g. cakes, meringues & pancakes). Made from potato and tapioca flour.
  • Crackd liquid no egg – for every egg situation except meringues. Made from pea protein. (Part-owned by Noble Foods.)

But you don’t need to buy a ready-made egg replacer. You can make them yourself from individual ingredients such as bicarbonate of soda and vinegar to get a rise in cakes, tofu to make scramble, or flaxseeds or chia seeds and water to bind a cake. You can also just buy a bag of gram (chick pea) flour or use the liquid from a tin of chick peas as aquafaba.

And of course, lots of food including baking doesn’t require eggs at all, particularly if you use fruit or veg to bind a cake (think banana, apple puree or carrot). These options often cut down on packaging compared to ready-made and other egg replacers.

For more suggestions look at the Viva! web guide and Peta's page on alternatives.

Price comparison of eggs and vegan egg replacer

How do vegan egg replaces compare price-wise with eggs? As can be seen below, most egg replacers are cheaper than high-welfare eggs and comparable to or even cheaper than ‘value’ low-welfare eggs (see earlier).

The cheapest highest-welfare standard egg vs ready-made egg replacers (ranked by price per egg or egg equivalent).
Brand Price per pack Price per egg or egg equivalent
Crackd+ £4.00 50p
Oggs aquafaba* £1.95 49p
Waitrose Duchy Organic eggs** £2.00 33p
Orgran Vegan Easy Egg^ £3.20 21p
Orgran No Egg^ £2.40 4p
Free & Easy^ £1.99 4p

Prices from *Sainsbury’s, **Waitrose, ^Ocado, +Morrisons

 

 

The environmental impact of egg production

Carbon footprint

Raising animals for meat, eggs and milk is said to generate 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is higher than all the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation combined.

Whilst a large proportion of emissions are from meat and dairy production and they are the priorities for reduction, reducing your consumption of eggs also has a role to play.

As you can see from the table below, eggs have at least double the carbon impact of the non-animal forms of protein. As with nearly all foods, the impact comes from the farming of eggs rather than packaging and transport.

Imported soya feed accounts for over 85% of the carbon emissions on eggs farms. This figure includes a contribution from deforestation (see below), but there’s also the processing and transportation elements.

Nitrous oxide and methane from manure is another climate impact.

Average greenhouse gas emissions in Europe of eggs compared to non-animal sources of protein (with beef and dairy for comparison)
Per kg produced of... GHG emissions (kg CO2e)
Beef 46
Dairy 37
Cheese 16
Eggs 5.1
Tofu 2.5
Nuts 2.4
Beans, pulses & peas 1.1

Source: Poore & Nemecek (2018) Science journal 

We expected companies to discuss these things when we rated them for carbon management and reporting.

The only company to talk about the carbon impact of its eggs was Stonegate Farmers (GOTT Agri), which started selling a brand of eggs called Respectful in October 2021 that it marketed as 'carbon neutral' because:

  • soya feed is replaced with local feed, so deforestation free
  • longer-lived hens that eat less
  • farm and packing centre powered by solar array and additional electricity is bought-in wind power
  • carbon offset protecting forests in South America.

Ethical Consumer does not consider carbon offsetting a meaningful way of reducing emissions, but the other steps do seem significant. Because no other company was producing or marketing soya feed-free eggs or eggs made with a lower carbon footprint, we gave the brand a half positive Product Sustainability point.

Deforestation fires burning in Amazon
Image from Greenpeace

Deforestation

The majority of soya used as animal feed in Europe comes from South America where land used for soya production has been converted from forests, savannahs and grasslands, endangering valuable habitats and species.

Stonegate talked about soya feed but only for one brand of the eggs they supply (Respectful brand). Noble Foods said that they had reduced their use of soya by 20% and were transitioning to sourcing from verified zero deforestation areas by 2025. None of the supermarkets discussed the issue of soya feed in their own-brand eggs.

Biodynamic eggs stipulate the use of local feed so they would be a good option to address this issue. .

Pollution from egg farms

Phosphate-rich run-off from chicken manure into waterways and a lack of water management is an issue in the egg industry, which has been highlighted by campaign group River Action. The run-off results in an increase in algal blooms, which effectively suffocates plants and fish as it takes oxygen from the water.

River Action is a new environmental campaigning organisation that aims to tackle river pollution resulting from UK food supply chains. It was formed in response to concerning evidence that reveals the declining state of many of the UK’s rivers, including data from the Environment Agency in 2020 that showed for the first time no river in England met quality tests for pollution.

River Action focused its campaign on the 134-mile-long River Wye. The Wye catchment area has 500 farms with a total of 1,420 mainly free-range poultry sheds, containing over 44 million birds. The issue is the positioning of the sheds close to the river and its tributaries. 60% of the River Wye catchment is failing to meet pollution targets.

River Action has written to Noble Foods, as the largest egg producers in the area, and Tesco, which is supplied by Noble, asking them to take action and demonstrate leadership by publishing, as a matter of urgency, a nutrient management plan to mitigate phosphate run off.

Egg packaging

Unless you collect your eggs directly from hens' nest boxes, eggs need packaging. There are different environmental impacts depending on what the packaging is.

  • Cardboard egg boxes can be recycled with paper and card in your household recycling, or you could add them to your compost or food waste bin.
  • Avoid plastic or polystyrene egg trays. These are usually used for ‘value’ eggs from caged birds.
  • Get your eggs from a shop or local farm which reuses your egg boxes.

 

Ethical rankings in the score table 

The score table covers 43 brands including the UK’s two biggest egg suppliers – Noble Foods and Stonegate Farmers, the supermarkets that sell own-brand eggs, and four brands of vegan egg replacer.

Noble supplies eggs for most of the supermarket own-brands as well as its own brands of the so-called 'Happy Egg' and also Big & Fresh, Heritage Breeds and Purely Organic. Stonegate supplies M&S and Waitrose.

All of the brands in the table sell either free range or organic eggs, except for Big & Fresh (Noble Foods) which is the only brand that sells barn eggs.

Companies were marked down in the Factory Farming column for selling or farming non free range or organic eggs or meat, or for breeding and rearing hens for laying eggs.

All the companies selling or farming free range or organic eggs or meat were marked down in the Animal Rights column.

Company Ethos plus points were given to:

We gave extra plus points for Product Sustainability to organic egg brands and the vegan egg replacers.

 

Companies behind the brands

Noble by name but maybe not by nature.

'Happy Eggs' owner, Noble Foods, is the UK’s biggest egg company and sells organic, free range, barn and enriched cage eggs. It’s biggest enriched cage site is in Nottinghamshire and has just over a million birds kept indoors in cages. It is also supplied by 340 independent egg farmers.

Noble Foods has pledged to go completely cage-free by 2025. To cover all bases, it has a joint venture to make the vegan egg brand Crackd, a brand not listed on its main website where it lists all its egg brands.

Noble Foods’ parent company, and two subsidiaries were all incorporated at the same address in Guernsey, and so Noble Foods received a worst rating in the Tax Conduct column for its likely use
of tax avoidance strategies.

As an unexpected and unconnected sideline, it is also an installer of low-carbon energy technologies such as Solar PV, Battery Storage, Combined Heat & Power (CHP), Biomass, HeatPumps and LED lighting.

Want more information?

See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.  

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