As many of us are making more conscious food choices, we’re thinking more about what’s in our food. ‘Clean eating’ may be a buzzword that’s no longer fashionable, but the ethos is still there. The trend for eating plant-based, whole foods and organic produce is continuously on the rise.
We’re all used to scanning ingredient lists for added salt, sugar and preservatives. But our attentions are now reaching further than to what’s added to our food. We’re also considering what’s been added to the food of the animals we eat. We are what we eat, so by default, we’re also what the animals on our plates eat.
Recent headlines have made us more wary of what’s in our food. The horse meat scandal. Growth hormones and antibiotics being routinely added to animal’s diets. The use of pesticides and other chemicals to grow fruit and veg. But, all those concerns aside, what about other things that are added to animal feed? Things that are good for us?
St.Ewe Boost the Roost Selenium and Omega 3 Enriched Eggs
‘Nutrient enriched’ foods are commonplace. Fortified foods such as breads, cereals and spreads have been available since World War 2. These are foods that have had nutrients added to them during processing. Iron, calcium and vitamin D are common examples of added nutrients.
Fortified foods have helped reduce the incidence of medical conditions such as rickets, a bone condition linked to a vitamin D deficiency.
It’s not only through the processing stage that nutrients can be added. They can also be added to animal feed to boost the nutritional value of meat and other animal products. This is the case in the brilliantly named Boost the Roost eggs from St.Ewe in the West Country. Their hens have been fed vitamin supplements to boost the levels of selenium and omega 3 in their eggs.
St.Ewe are an award winning producer of eggs from 100% free range hens. Their hens have plenty of outdoor space to roam as they please and their eggs are collected daily. Every 12 weeks, a few eggs are collected for selenium and omega 3 testing. This ensures that these nutrient levels are being kept consistent.
The Health Benefits of Selenium and Omega 3
Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that contributes to a healthy immune system. It also assists in male fertility. A deficiency of selenium is linked with chronic pancreatitis. This is a condition where the pancreas has become so inflamed that it’s permanently damaged.
St.Ewe’s decided to fortify their Boost the Roost eggs with selenium because selenium intake is generally thought to be deficient in the UK. They also donate 5p from each box sold to the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid. Our body cannot produce it, so it’s essential that we eat it every day. We need omega 3 to keep our hearts and brains healthy. Good sources include oily fish and flax seeds, and now Boost the Roost eggs are another option!
But is enriching the food of an animal such as a hen, so that we can get extra nutrients, ethical? How ‘natural’ is it?
Natural Foods vs Enriched – Are Eggs With Added Nutrients All They’re Cracked Up to Be?
When we eat an apple, we know we’re eating natural vitamins, minerals and fibre. But when we eat a nutritionally enriched food, it’s not so ‘natural’. These vitamins have been added, so is this a bad thing?
Not really. Especially considering that many of us take daily vitamin supplements, which are the same as the vitamins used to enrich foods and animal feeds.
Adding vitamins and minerals to our food has been an important contribution to UK diets for decades. St.Ewe adding nutrients to their hen’s feed is no different. The omega 3 they use has come from natural algal sources and the selenium is a simple food supplement.
So yes, eggs with added nutrients are everything they’re cracked up to be! When it comes to eggs, a far greater consideration is how happy the hen was when she laid it.
Battery vs Barn vs Free Range Hens
Battery hen farming, where hens are kept indoors in wire cages, was banned in the EU in 2012. But ‘enriched’ battery farming is still permitted. This means that each hen must have 600cm² of useable space. This is a space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper to move, eat, lay eggs, sleep and poop in. It allows no space for the natural habits of hens which include perching, nesting and scratching. Generally, cages are made to hold 80 hens and there could be nine of these cages stacked on top of one another.
The RSPA don’t believe that these enriched cages “meet the full needs of the birds”.
Most UK hens thankfully live in better conditions. These are known as barn hens. Birds are still kept inside for most of the time, but have more space to move around in. Provisions are made for the hens to have access to perches to roost on and boxes to nest in. There’s also areas for ‘dust bathing’, a favourite pastime of hens. This is a marked improvement from caged hens but is still not ideal for hen happiness.
Better than the life of a barn hen, is the life of a free range hen. Free range hens by law must have full daytime access to the outdoors with space to roam and feed freely. St.Ewe hens are let out into the fresh countryside air every day to scratch and stroll as they please.
Happy Hens, Happy Eggs
St.Ewe are proud to have such well looked after girls. They believe that happy hens equal happy, great tasting eggs. We may or may not taste the difference. But the happier the hen, the more ethical, sustainable and feel-good her egg.
Is it ethical to fortify the diet of a chicken so that we can eat ‘more nutritious’ food? Compared with keeping hens caged and indoors, feeding free range birds extra vitamins can’t be wrong.
Taking vitamin supplements is commonplace for many of us. Eating them as a consequence of them being fed to farm animals isn’t something to worry about. There’s far bigger concerns, such as pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in our food. Selenium and omega 3 enriched eggs are simply another way of getting all the nutrients we need.
Eggs are a cheap, nutritious source of food. But we should choose our eggs carefully. Free range are the best option for ensuring the wellbeing of the birds that lay our eggs. If an egg is a good way to start the day, then it’s better all round if it’s a happy one.