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It's fair to say that eggs are one of the most important commodities we can buy in a supermarket. Britons consume over 11 million eggs a year and use eggs in a wide array of product from cakes to cosmetics.
Since the EU cage egg ban of 1999, European chicken welfare has been on the rise with great expansions in organic and free range egg markets championed by groups such as the British Free Range Egg Producers Assocation (BFREPA).
It's easy to see that consumers care about where and how their food was produced. Higher Welfare and 'local' eggs command a significant premium, yet all that ultimately defines whether an egg is the egg code printed on each egg in edible red ink. For this reason alone it is important to verify the origin of eggs using forensic evidence such as isotope analysis.
British eggs can be traced by the numbers printed on them, these numbers identify the farm the egg was laid on and how it was produced. However, egg traceability isn't just a numbers game - there's also a system in place to help auditors track eggs back to farm from the pack. Here's a rough guide to how eggs go from gate to plate in the UK.
Of course, not every packing centre will use the same traceability system as this, there is variation in what is used. However this brief overview should highlight why it's important to have a traceability system that includes analysis as well as digital traceability; current traceability based on mass-balance or paper records is not impossible to trick if someone wanted to cheat the system.
Fig. 1 Isoscape of eggs fromthe British Isles showing Deuterium/Hydrogen Isotope regions
It is important to be able to distinguish organic products from non-organic or conventional products for a number of reasons. Most importantly, consumers want to be certain of whether or not what they are purchasing is the real deal or not.
Organic eggs can be differentiated from conventional eggs because the chickens eat different food. In order for an egg to be organic it must have been laid by a chicken that has eaten a diet of organic food. Due to the difference in the origin of the nitrogen in the proteins in organic and conventional chicken feeds, organic eggs can be differentiated from conventional eggs by means of analysing their nitrogen stable isotope ratios.
Organic eggs show more enriched nitrogen ratios than conventional eggs (more positive than conventional) this is because they have relatively more 'heavy' nitrogen (15N) than conventional eggs.
Agroisolab offers isotope testing services to determine whether or not organic eggs are organic. Contact us for further details.