Jen Woike of Farmer Ben’s Eggs wants consumers to truly know where their eggs were produced. (Citizen file)

Jen Woike of Farmer Ben’s Eggs wants consumers to truly know where their eggs were produced. (Citizen file)

Cowichan egg farmer says customers should be given a choice at the store

High costs prevent Islanders from farming

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency finds no fault in how Burnbrae Farms and Island Gold label eggs destined for Vancouver Island store shelves.

“All food sold in Canada, including eggs, must be labelled and advertised in a manner that is truthful and not misleading,” said a spokesperson for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. “Brand names can voluntarily be applied by a manufacturer to distinguish products from others of the same type. Along with other labelling information, such as the company name and principal place of business, the brand name contributes to the overall impression given to consumers about a food. This overall impression is considered when determining compliance with regulatory requirements.”

In short, labelling eggs with the “Island Gold” brand, though they may not have been laid on Vancouver Island, is not seen as an issue to the CFIB.

While the regulatory body doesn’t see the Island Gold label as misleading, Farmer Ben’s Eggs spokesperson Jen Woike says she, and many consumers, do.

“I, personally, just think the consumer deserves to know,” said Woike. “People say, ‘well it says Island right on it’, and the grocers say ‘it says Island Gold so it must be from the Island’,” she said.

SEE RELATED: Not enough local eggs to meet demand: officials

What frustrates Woike is that thanks to big contracts made back east, her eggs can’t even sit beside them on the shelves to offer customers a real choice.

While Burnbrae Farms President and CEO Margaret Hudson said her staff of 50 Islanders “pick up eggs from 32 egg farms on the Island and the Lower Mainland to help meet the growing demand for B.C. eggs,” Woike questions just what the distribution of those 32 egg farms is. How many are on the Island and how many are on the mainland?

She feels that, despite the Island Gold label, and Burnbrae’s messaging, the actual percentage of Burnbrae eggs being produced on Vancouver Island is small.

All parties agree, however, that Vancouver Island is not in a position to support itself when it comes to egg production.

“Our more than 1,100 egg farmers and farm families in all provinces and in the Northwest Territories are dedicated to producing a steady, high-quality supply of eggs, while also adhering to the highest standards of food safety and animal welfare,” said a comment from The Egg Farmers of Canada. “To match the supply of eggs to demand from consumers on an annual basis, the Canadian egg farming industry draws on a quota system. The calculation takes into account a range of factors like per capita egg consumption, trends in the market, trade agreements and changes in our Canadian population, among other factors. Egg Farmers of Canada establishes production quotas on an annual basis, and egg boards administer the quota within their respective province or territory.”

Amanda Brittain, the director of Communications and Marketing for the B.C. Egg Marketing Board, said “once the quota allocation is assigned to B.C., we are then responsible for making sure farmers have the appropriate number of hens for their quota level. Farmers can buy and sell quota at their discretion but we monitor the transactions to make sure they are fair.”

Brittain added that, in general, farmers are free to set up or move their farms anywhere they like in the province.

Woike said it’s not as easy as just choosing to farm on the Island.

“The easiest way to explain why Vancouver Island can’t support Vancouver Island is the same answer as it is for all other farming applications: it’s cost-prohibitive and expensive to farm on Vancouver Island. That’s why we’ve lost dairy farmers. In the last couple of years we’ve lost a large number of quota holders in layer production on Vancouver Island as well,” she said, adding that she doesn’t think Islanders have ever been able to self-sustain with egg production, which is an issue when you look at emergency management or something such as the pandemic.

“What I’m trying to highlight is the problem’s always been there, but why wouldn’t you be supporting someone who is actually producing eggs here over someone who is not?” she asked. “We need everybody and the bottom line is I’m not trying to say that we want it all, because we can’t do it all. We just want people to have a choice. We want the grocers to have a choice to have our eggs and we want the consumers to have a choice and we’re not being given that.”

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