Despite promises of all major supermarkets to sell only eggs from alternative systems (barn, free-range or organic) by 2025, one-third of all eggs produced in France still come from a cage-system.
The reason is simple, the sector organisation for the egg industry CNPO says: cage-eggs are still cheaper and appeal to consumers who in France too are confronted with a serious cost-of-living crisis.
In the first 9 months of this year, France produced 11.5 billion units of eggs, more or less the same as in the same period in 2022, according to figures from the statistics office Agreste of the Department of Agriculture. In September, egg production amounted to 1.2 billion units. Of those eggs, 0.8 billion were from what Agreste calls alternative systems, whereas 0.4 billion came from poultry farms that still use cases. Significantly, in the first three quarters of 2023, sales of more expensive organic eggs fell by 7% compared to 2022.
“In times of crisis and high costs, the price is more important than animal welfare,” admits CNPO. “An egg is an anti-crisis product and eggs are still the cheapest source of animal protein sold in our supermarkets,” the representative of the retailers on the CNPO board, Franck Darteil, told television news channel France Inter. “More and more consumers are opting for less meat or fish and more eggs. For a lot of people, price is a far more relevant criteria than provenance when buying eggs.”
Vice-president Loïc Coulombel explains: “Not that long ago, the French said they strongly disliked eggs coming from cage systems. Supermarkets reacted with promises to ban those eggs in favour of alternative production methods. Threats from animal rights activists like L214 also played a role here. The egg producers had no other choice than to switch and further developed different systems – barns, free-range or organic.”
The share of cage eggs is down drastically to just 27% now, Coulombel added. “However, due to the crisis, the cards are suddenly shuffled anew. Organic is down by 17% year-over-year and cage eggs are gaining market share again. We are in a paradoxical situation, supermarkets offer more cage eggs while organic ones are hard to find. Cage eggs are sold out so quickly that we can hardly supply enough of them. In 2021, the production method and provenance of the eggs they bought was important for 50% of French consumers; now that is down to 43%.”