Eggs in German Supermarkets decoded

Eggs come in wide varieties. The labels and descriptions on the egg boxes often contain so many industry terms and marketing jargon that confuse the customer.

Today, I am writing about the different types of eggs available in German Supermarkets, how to identify them and understand what the labels mean.

The four types that we commonly see are:

Ökologische Erzeugung : These are organic eggs. The hens are kept in the open and not in cages. No more than 3000 hens are allowed in the barn, and no more than six are kept in one square meter. The fat in their feed comes from ecologically produced vegetable oils. Also, the other feed comes from certified organic suppliers who grow the grain without using herbicides, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers.

Freilandhaltung: These are free-range eggs. Here again, the hens are not kept in cages. They have access to green open space of at least 4sqm per hen, most of which is covered with greenery. But in the barn, they have lesser space. Here nine hens are kept in 1 square meter of space. Since the hens are left free to feed, these eggs are said to be more nutritious than barn eggs, and eggs from hens kept in cages.

Bodenhaltung: These are barn eggs. Here, the hens live in closed barns. The space that each hen gets is also lesser. Nine animals per square meter live, with a maximum of 6,000 hens in a barn. The barn can have up to four levels, one above the other, in which case 18 animals per square meter of floor space are permitted. The hens have no access to sunlight and no room to stretch and perch. 

Käfighaltung: These hens are kept in cages. 12.5 animals live on one square meter. It has even more problems associated with space in comparison to barn eggs. 

Now that we understand the 4 types of eggs let’s try and understand the code stamped on individual eggs when we open the box.

Understanding the code stamped on Eggs

The code follows the format:

”Single digit Number-2 Alphabets-7digit number”, something like 0-DE-1234567

Let us now understand what the code means:

We start from the left. The 1st number shows which type of egg it is.

0 = Ökologische Erzeugung (organic)

1 = Freilandhaltung (free range)

2 = Bodenhaltung (floor husbandry/Barn eggs)

3 = Käfighaltung (cage eggs)

Next come the two alphabets written in capital. These show which EU country the egg comes from:

  • DE = Germany
  • AT = Austria
  • IT = Italy
  • NL = Netherlands
  • Etc.

The 7-digit code at the end (in the example: “1234567”) tells us which federal state and which producer the eggs come from. Out of these seven digits, the first 2 show the region in Germany from where the egg comes:

01 Schleswig-Holstein

02 Hamburg

03 Lower Saxony

04 Bremen

05 North Rhine-Westphalia

06 Hesse

07 Rhineland-Palatinate

08 Baden-Württemberg

09 Bavaria

11 Berlin

12 Brandenburg

13 Mecklenburg-West Pomerania

14 Saxony

15 Saxony-Anhalt

16 Thuringia

The balance five digits tell who the producer of the egg is. 

After understanding the basics of eggs available in supermarkets, one comes to the obvious next question. 

Which of these four eggs should one buy?

Purchasing anything is mainly based on 2 pillars- price and quality.

In terms of pricing, the barn eggs and cage eggs (Bodenhaltung and Käfighaltung) are the cheapest, then comes Free Range Eggs (Freilandhaltting). The most expensive ones are Organic eggs (Ökologische Erzeugung). 

In terms of taste and nutrition, organic eggs are said to have a better aroma and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids because the chickens eat chamomile or other plants with essential oils more often when pecking in the meadow. Since the hens are fed on a pesticide-free diet, the eggs are ‘organic’ too. Hence, in terms of nutrition, Organic eggs are at the top. Next, come free-range eggs. Here again, since the hens are left free to feed on their own, they consume a mix of nutrients that get passed on to the egg. Therefore, these two varieties of eggs are the best in terms of nutrition. 

In the latter two varieties, hens often live in stressed conditions due to a lack of space. This can manifest itself in behavioral disorders such as cannibalism and feather pecking. The hens get sick often, and when they do, antibiotics are used on them. All of this affects the nutrition output of the eggs, too, and hence, in comparison to organic and free-range eggs, barn eggs, and cage eggs are low in nutrition. 

Here are some essential things you need to know about Eggs in Germany:

  1. When you buy eggs, check the expiry date. As a rule, eggs can be kept outside for about 28 days from when they were laid. Ten days before expiry, they must be refrigerated.
  2. Egg packs also have ‘Güteklasse’ written on them. Güteklasse means ‘grade’. Güteklasse A eggs are clean eggs with unbroken shells – these eggs are extra fresh and unwashed. These are for household use. Güteklasse B eggs are only used for industry. In this grade, it is permitted for the eggs to be washed or preserved by refrigeration. In supermarkets, we only see Güteklasse A.
  3. In addition, the size of the eggs is also written on the egg box. Here S means small. Weight/egg is 53 gm; M means medium. Weight/egg is 53-63gm; L means large. Weight/egg is 63-73 gm; XL means extra large. Weight/eggAbove 73 gm.
  4. Nowadays, many brands also mention ‘ohne kükentöten‘ on the eggs boxes. This means ‘without killing chickens.’ Let’s understand this a bit more:
    It is a common practice in the industry to kill male chickens as soon as they hatch because they do not bring any profit to farmers. Neither do they put on weight ( so that their meat can be sold), nor can they lay eggs ( as they are males). Many human rights activists raised their voices against this practice, and subsequently, two solutions came up :
    1. Under the Bruderhahn initiative, male hens are not killed as soon as they hatch. Instead, they are raised for about half a year before they are slaughtered. The meat produced per male hen is lesser. To compensate for that, the meat is priced higher. 
    2. Another way to prevent killing the male hens as soon as they hatch is by determining the sex in the eggs and sorting the eggs with male embryos. These eggs are then not hatched. A brief shock freezing then ends incubation. The eggs are then processed into protein-rich animal feed. Only the eggs with female embryos hatch into chicks.
    Therefore ‘ohne kükentöten‘ means that male hens were not killed in the process. 

    One may argue that they were killed any which way- either before hatching or after half a year, but that’s a different debate.
  5. One more commonly seen phrase on the egg boxes is ‘von Legehennen ohne gekürzten Schnabel’. This means ‘ from hens without shortened beaks.’ This is another interesting topic and worth a read:
    Today chickens are farmed animals. But their ancestors lived in jungles. (Even today, wild varieties are living in jungles). There they live in small groups of animals in a tight association and a strict pecking order. During the day, they search for insects, seeds, grasses, berries, and whatever else the forest floor offers. With up to 15,000 pecks a day, they explore their surroundings, feed themselves, and produce about 20 eggs per hen. 
    Now, when the hens are farmed and expected to produce many more eggs ( approximately 300 instead of 20), they are fed high-energy food instead of letting them feed on their own. When they are already ‘full,’ the need for pecking gets redirected. Instead of pecking for food, they start pecking each other and injuring other hens in the barn. This is not good for the industry as it involves extra work and costs. Hence the practice of trimming off the beaks started so that they don’t cause each other injury. 
    Now, this sounded inhuman and many initiatives and studies done to see if we can rear these creatures for their eggs but still allow them to live normally by following their natural instincts.
    So, when you see ‘von Legehennen ohne gekürzten Schnabel,’ it means that the hens’ beaks were not trimmed while they were reared for egg production.

With so much information available, consumers can still feel overwhelmed and unsure. Some studies considered all the popular brands of eggs available in Germany and gave them a rating based on the living conditions, feed, etc., and some winners came out. These are:

  1. Alnatura Bio-Eier Bruderküken-Initiative
  2. Bioland from Alnatura
  3. Haehnlein deutsche Bio-Eier from EZ Fürstenhof
  4. Bioland’s “Huhn & Hahn

These eggs are certainly more expensive than many other brands in other supermarkets. If egg consumption in your family is high, it can shake your monthly budget for food.

Here are my 2 Cents on this matter:

  1. Eat for nutrition. So when choosing between barn eggs and free range/organic eggs. Choose the latter. Choose free-range eggs if the organic egg price seems higher.
  2. Consider visiting a farm or going to the local farmers market in your city. Many small farmers put up their stalls there. They don’t mass produce, and one can safely assume that the treatment given to hens on their farm would be better than that given by big companies.
  3. If organic eggs seem expensive, at least look for information on the box that helps you understand the conditions in which the hens were reared and buy accordingly.
  4. And last but not least, reduce your egg consumption if possible. If going vegetarian/vegan seems too far-fetched, try reducing your egg consumption and compensating for it with other veg-based protein sources.

Before I finish this article, let me also talk about one more interesting thing I have seen in the German Supermarket – ‘die bunte Eier,‘ i.e., colored eggs.

These eggs are hard-boiled and can be eaten directly. They require no further cooking. But always check the eggshell before buying- eggs shells with cracks should not be bought as germs can enter through the cracks. These eggs are usually ‘bodenhaltung’ eggs, i.e., barn eggs.

Here my readers may note that most of the food products in the supermarket that contain eggs, e.g., Noodles, Pasta, etc., usually contain ‘bodenhaltung’, i.e., barn eggs.

To read about other products in the german supermarket, click here.

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