Great Canadian Eggs, I assure you
Egg Quality Assurance or EQA is a new assurance label you may start to see on your egg carton or at your local restaurant. Just like the little blue cow symbol for dairy products in Canada, the EQA egg symbol means a couple very important things:
The farm that the eggs came from has passed their annual Start Clean-Stay Clean® food safety audit
The farm that the eggs came from has passed their annual Animal Care Program audit
What doesn't the EQA symbol say? It doesn't specify the kind of environment in which the hens were kept. That information will still come from the carton label e.g. "nestlaid" means that the eggs are from hens housed in enriched colonies. Whatever the housing system, all farms must still meet all the requirements specified by the Animal Care Program.
What does it mean if your carton doesn't have the EQA label? Two possibilities: the label is still being introduced nation-wide, so it may not be included yet on that particular brand; or, the eggs in the carton may be imported from the US. It is important to note that the eggs that we import from the US must still pass an animal welfare audit (i.e. they must be United Egg Producers or UEP Certified), they just are not audited using the two Canadian programs listed above.
This symbol marks a really important step for the Canadian Egg Industry in terms of transparency. The two programs on which it is based, animal care and food safety, are not new programs but they are now united under one symbol. They were created using science-based standards and are continuously reviewed to make sure they represent the latest scientific developments. In particular, the process we use to create/revise the Animal Care Program, and the Code of Practice on which it is based, is the envy of the world. No other country has a mandatory animal care program that all egg farms must follow in order to sell their products (see Note below). No other country has national standards that are created by such a range of stakeholders coming together and agreeing on what the baseline standard of care should be. We should all be so proud that we have such a robust, accountable, and transparent egg industry in Canada.
Note: The EU has legislated minimum standards for laying hens that were introduced in 1999 and came into effect in 2012 (Council Directive 1999/74/EC). However, there is no consistent process for ensuring the standards are followed on farms except if a complaint is made (and it would be treated like any legal issue). The advantage of having a mandatory Animal Care Program like we have in Canada is twofold. First, every barn on every quota-holding egg farm (> 100 hens) in Canada is audited every year. Second, the Codes of Practice (and by extension the Animal Care Program) undergoes a mandatory review every 5 years and a full revision every 10 years. Therefore, the fundamental cornerstones of Animal Care in the egg industry in Canada are transparency and adaptability.