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China sets formal standard for businesses to use cage-free eggs

December 5, 2021
Food & Drink

In a move to scale cage-free egg regulations to market behest, the China Chain Store and Franchise Association (CCFA) and the China Animal Health and Food Safety Alliance (CAFA) have set a formal standard to define which eggs and egg products are to be marketed as cage-free.

The standard has been formulated because cage-free egg demand will increase by 1.8 billion eggs per year due to corporate commitments and to 3 billion eggs annually over the next few years.

“More than a dozen egg producers are currently going through the on-site audit and verification process after the standard was released and we anticipate that the majority of them will be approved soon,” Mutzu Huang, program manager at Lever China tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“There is a detailed verification process to ensure that laying hens are never confined in cages, as well as to ensure that other animal welfare and food safety parameters that are part of the cage-free standard are also met.”

Cracking cage-free issues wide open
This includes an on-farm verification process carried out by an independent firm that reviews and audits egg farms on a regular basis even after they are certified.

“Producers or food companies who do not pass the regular audit will not be entitled to use the ‘cage-free’ mark anymore. In both of these ways, China’s new cage-free standard is actually more rigorous and more comprehensive than that of some other countries, such as for example the US,” states Huang.

The decision to develop the standard was driven by demand from over 70 food companies in China who have committed to using only cage-free eggs. Domestic players such as city’super and City Shop and foodservice brands A-Star and Riverside Grilled Fish have given their commitment.

International companies, including Metro, Aldi, Costco, and Burger King, have also committed.

Consumers, brands and producers of one yolk
According to Huang, Chinese consumers are keen to know whether the foods served on their table come from humane and safe supply chains.

“The new standard will make it clearer to consumers how their egg products were produced.”

Because the standard brings clarity and assurance to buyers, the standard will increase the rate at which large corporate buyers and some individual consumers are shifting to purchase cage-free eggs instead of caged eggs.

That sped-up shift toward cage-free will provide great welfare benefits for egg-laying hens, Huang notes.

“Further, because the standard covers a variety of animal welfare parameters in addition to its requirement that laying hens never be confined in cages, it will improve animal welfare on existing cage-free farms, in addition to the strong food safety protections it also guarantees,” Huang details.

Legislation tailored for China
The new cage-free egg standard was developed based on international standards and tailored to the Chinese market. It provides guidelines on housing and animal welfare, and food safety to safeguard the rights of consumers and food companies and provide added assurance on egg production.

This group standard ensures transparency in the production of cage-free eggs and will help food companies communicate with consumers, adds Han Taixin, vice president of egg producer Ovodan.

“Such standards are the foundation of trust between consumers and the egg industry because usually, consumers cannot see the real living environment of hens that lay eggs for them,” notes Wang Weisheng, founder of Happy Egg which supplies eggs to major retailers in China.

Egging producers on
Seven of China’s twenty largest egg producers now either offer cage-free eggs or are in the process of building out cage-free production in response to the growing demand.

“For egg producers who are already producing cage-free or free-range eggs, it provides a clear and reasonable set of standards that are very achievable, and which give these producers the ability to more formally market their eggs as cage-free,” explains Huang.

For egg producers who currently utilize only caged egg production, but who see the opportunity in shifting to or adding new cage-free production facilities, the standard gives them clear guidelines when constructing their new facilities.The national standard on the production, distribution and sale of cage-free eggs was released October 27, effective immediately, by the CCFA, a state-affiliated trade group that serves as the official representative of China’s retail industry. The standard was developed in cooperation with IQC, a farm certification consultancy.

CCFA represents over 460,000 chain stores in the food sector, including international brands such as Walmart, Carrefour, Starbucks and Burger King, and domestic retail giants like Yonghui supermarket, Jinjiang Hotels and Haidilao restaurant.

Animal-free eggs on the horizon?
Animal-free egg proteins are being developed rapidly, which will eventually rival the presence of the conventional egg industry.

In this space, The Every Company recently launched the “world’s first animal-free, nature-equivalent egg protein” – Every ClearEgg.

Meanwhile, this year’s World Egg Day allowed agri-food producers to market products made with this staple despite the exponential growth in demand for plant-based replacement solutions. Steps to make the egg industry more environmentally friendly can help ensure its sustainability.

By Inga de Jong


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