Farm eggs are now in hot demand, and in California alternative eggs have reached cult status. The farmers who raise them are now almost as famous as the Hollywood star’s imprints that grace the grounds of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. These eggs now offer smaller farmers a good source of revenue. But, this growing market for a different kind of egg is creating tension between those smaller farmers that raise them and our local egg marketing boards. If you had no idea, these boards were created to develop the mainstream egg industry in Canada and its large chicken farms.
The egg farming is governed by a supply management system in Canada, which means egg marketing boards control the number of eggs produced. This quota system maintains a constant price, and proponents say it ensures that farmers make a living and consumers have a steady supply of eggs. But the eggs produced on farms that hold the quotas are not the eggs that foodies now desire. It’s the small, often organic operator who is supplying the fresh eggs to farmers’ markets that are in high demand.
All farmers are allowed to keep 99 laying hens without a buying quota, which is going to cost them thousands of dollars. They can then sell their eggs from the farm gate without grading them, a process that evaluates quality. But they are forbidden from selling them anywhere else unless they are graded, which, for the small farmer, is a tough regulation to meet because grading stations are often a long way from the farm and it is very expensive to set one up.
This whole dilemma has now created what they call “a grey market for eggs”. However, if you know the imaginary password, sometimes you can buy the odd dozen at an Ontario health food store. These popular eggs at some farmers’ markets are kept out of sight – for a reason. It’s now considered more like Prohibition bootlegging with a lot more people ignoring the regulations and selling eggs.
But when markets or stores sell these eggs their risk becomes VERY HIGH. There is much talk of the “egg police” who keep track of who’s doing what. Then there are the rumours and sometimes facts of farmers getting in trouble for breaking the rules. A farmer was fined in 2008 over $3,000 CDN for selling eggs to Ottawa-area restaurants. Somewhere in Eastern Ontario in 2006, the egg marketing board, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and police officers raided one particular farm and pressed charges including unlawful possession of laying hens because the farmer allegedly owned more than the permitted 99 laying hens.