Oliver Moore: Organic eggs better than free range?

Chickens on John and Sara Devoy's organic farm in Rosscarbery, Co Cork. 

If you are visiting SuperValu stores in West Cork and Cork city, you may encounter a friendly farmer, in store, with a leaflet near the eggs.

That man is John Devoy, originally of Midleton, and, since 2002, of Rosscarbery in West Cork. John’s leaflet explains, in simple terms, what exactly the difference between organic and free-range eggs are.

How and why did you start this mini campaign, John?

We have 800 hens producing organic eggs. We know from the farmers markets that there is confusion out there as to the difference between organic and free range. In the market, we can talk to people face to face.

So I had this leaflet printed out — I clarified the points on it with IOFGA, they are certainly aware of the confusion that’s out there — and then went to the SuperValus we are in with it. 

We’ve put the leaflets into the egg boxes. I also go to the SuperValus we deliver to and talk to customers. I stood in Kinsale SuperValu – which won the national award for best SuperValu in 2017. 

Gathering winter salads are John and Sara Devoy, organic growers near Rosscarbery. Picture Denis Minihane.

I stood for several hours, there and in Clonakilty, and in Grange and Ballinlough in the city. I have to say people are genuinely confused about the difference between organic and free range. Once I explain the difference, it really surprises them.

I’m ready to go in now to deliver to Dunmanway, Bantry and Skibbereen, I’ve a box of leaflets, and 40 dozen eggs. I enjoy being in there. It’s informing the public in an eyeball-to-eyeball sort of way. We sell mainly in west Cork and Cork city.

What have you learned?

They choose free range for emotional reasons. They see it as the opposite of caged. Free range has captured the emotional psyche of people — it makes them think of old style farming, like their granny’s place. But really, standard free range is mostly an industrial scale operation these days. 

They also don’t think about feed — they understand it once you say it to them — an egg after all is protein. Only 5-6% of the hen’s diet comes from ranging. The rest comes from the feed they get. 

Then, for free range eggs, there’s GM soya, colours, synthetic acids, they are all allowed. There are very strong restrictions on antibiotic use in organic, there aren’t in free range. The fact that we can’t put the words “free range” onto our boxes — once they hear this, they all agree it doesn’t make sense. 

They can’t understand, if organic includes free ranging of birds, why can’t it say so? The hens have more room, a better diet, longer life, why can’t those few organic egg producers out there use the phrase?

How is the set up in store? Are you behind a stand?

Why would I do that? It’d just be me standing behind it. They are not expecting a guy to stand there, telling them he’s the farmer, with no stand — they


respond well to this. It’s far better I think than when it’s formal looking. They know those guys behind the official looking stands are paid. 

I’m there representing myself and my family farm. I’ve no vans on the road, it’s me and my locality. Some customers take the leaflet, have a read of it while they are pushing their trolley and come back to me then and buy our eggs.

I always check with the store manager, I ask permission, they love having the producers there as it always helps sell product faster.

I want our eggs hopping off the shelf, from an economic point of view. Also I want this to help other organic egg producers elsewhere. Maybe they won’t stand there, but their sales may benefit.

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