Organic Eggs - a cocktail of toxins from the sea

02 April, 2024

A new investigation shows that organic eggs contain high levels of several toxins and may pose a risk to young children. However, the production of conventional eggs risks increasing the amount of toxins in the environment in the long run.

– We need to put the brakes on (for PFAS). We should have done so the day before yesterday, says Petra Bergkvist, inspector at the Swedish Food Agency.

Archive image

The Swedish consumer review magazine Råd & Rön recently tested the levels of toxins such as dioxins, PCB, and perfluorinated substances, PFAS, in Swedish eggs. Eggs from 20 suppliers, including nine organically produced ones, were tested. The organic eggs were found to contain higher levels of chemicals than conventional eggs. For instance, the levels of dioxins were around 100 times higher in the organic eggs.

– It is probably due to the fishmeal that the organic hens eat, says Petra Bergkvist.

Fishmeal – environmental toxins into the bargain

An industrial laying hen lays around 300 eggs per year. To avoid risking the health of the hens, their main feed made from grains is enriched with protein feed and the amino acid methionine. However, organic hens are not allowed to eat feed produced synthetically and therefore get fishmeal instead.

– Fish are good at absorbing environmental toxins, so the fact that there are more PFAS in organic eggs was not entirely unexpected but unfortunate, says Lisa Schneider, an organic egg producer and poultry advisor via the Swedish Egg industry organization.

Fishing for feed undermines sustainability

Organic food production promotes biodiversity by excluding chemical pesticides, among other things. However, using fishmeal as feed for organic hens’ risks having the opposite effect since buyers of organic eggs become passive consumers of fish from unsustainable sources.

– Fishing for feed drives demand so that fish stocks are currently not being utilized in a long-term sustainable manner, says Mats Svensson, head of department at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management.

The EU decides the future

To reduce toxins in eggs, EU regulations on how organic food should be produced need to be reviewed, according to Marie Lönneskog Hogstadius, managing director of the Swedish Egg organization.

– The best solution would be for the organic production regulations to allow purified amino acids to be added to the feed. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about environmental toxins and overfishing, she says.

Conventional eggs risk long-term increase of PFAS

However, switching to conventional eggs risks increasing PFAS emissions into the environment in the long run. PFAS are found in several approved pesticides used in conventional grain cultivation included in chicken feed. In organic farming, it is not allowed to use synthetic pesticides.

– The ban must be closer to the emitter. It is not possible to remove substances that already exist in the environment through legislation, says Petra Bergkvist.

Råd & Rön’s recommendation is that young children should not eat more than three eggs per week that is based on eggs with the highest levels of toxins. If calculated based on the average instead, 7–8 eggs per week can be consumed by children weighing ten kilograms before they reach levels that the EU has deemed could affect health in the long term. All toxins in the eggs were below the EU’s consumption thresholds.

– We shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill, says Marie Lönneskog Hogstadius.

PFAS, or poly- and perfluorinated alkyl substances, constitute a comprehensive group of chemicals that do not occur naturally but began to be manufactured from the mid-20th century. This category includes many different substances and affects our environment in various ways. Due to their persistent nature, PFAS substances are widespread in the environment and are found in food, drinking water, and various consumer products.
Although regular exposure through food and water does not lead to acute health problems, it is important to note that some PFAS substances tend to accumulate in the body over a long time. This is particularly important to consider for pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant, as the fetus and infant are particularly sensitive to the effects of these chemicals.
Research suggests that PFAS substances can affect the immune system, birth weight, blood cholesterol levels, and liver function, making it even more necessary to minimize exposure to these substances. The Swedish Food Agency highlights this issue and calls for caution regarding PFAS substances to protect health, especially for vulnerable groups such as fetuses and children.
Annually, 75,000 tons of PFAS end up in the environment in Europe.
Source: Swedish Food Agency

Sweden has no fishmeal production and therefore imports fishmeal from Denmark. The fishmeal given to organic chickens in Sweden must come from environmentally certified fish. MSC is an example of an environmental certification that has been criticized for exploiting already overfished areas. It also does not guarantee that the fish are free from environmental toxins since there are currently no limits for PFAS in fishmeal-based feed.
The use of slaughterhouse waste as chicken feed was banned because of the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease spread due to meat meal from slaughtered animals being used.

Text: Lina Mattsson

Related articles

One third of all fish caught is thrown overboard or rots before it reaches the consumer – one in three fish is killed unnecessarily…
Text: Peter Löfgren
Photo: Adam Nilsson
Title image: Hanna Teleman/Scanpix/TT
I am now forbidden to fish for cod and the pike has disappeared from my bay. I’m looking for scapegoats. Who is responsible for the condition below the surface in the Baltic Sea? Small-scale professional fishermen along the east coast have been raising the alarm for several years that the herring has declined sharply. At the same time, the large-scale trawling in the open sea has continued to catch large quantities, which have gone directly to the fishmeal factories in Denmark….
Chronicler: Peter Löfgren
Foto: Johan Candert, Simon Stanford
The conflicts within Swedish fishing are very fierce. Small-scale coastal fishermen on the east and south coasts face a small number of giant trawlers from the West Coast. I was looking forward to tough discussions and fruitful exchanges at this year’s Fishing Forum. But met with pleasant company in a luxurious mingling environment….
Chronicler: Peter Löfgren
Photo: Ida Åkesson/SPA
Scroll to Top