Facebook group, farmers fight egg ban

P.E.I. farmers and their supporters are pushing the provincial government to change its policy banning uninspected eggs from restaurants and grocery stores.
Chester Stewart says registering his egg business for federal inspection is too expensive. (CBC)

P.E.I. farmers and their Facebook supporters are pushing the provincial government to change its policy banning certain eggs from restaurants and grocery stores.

The issue came to light last week when a decades-old bed and breakfast decided to close its doors at the end of this year when told it could no longer serve eggs from its hens to customers.

The Doctor's Inn in Tyne Valley had been using local, free-range eggs, but they were not federally inspected. That means the eggs can be sold from the farm gate, or at a farmers market, but not in a bed and breakfast.

On Monday, another farmer came forward to say his business had been stopped by the government.

Chester Stewart used to supply Hunter River's By the River Bakery with all of its eggs. Six weeks ago, government health inspectors visited the bakery and told the owners they could not use Stewart's eggs because they are not federally inspected.

There are 10 registered egg producers on P.E.I. and only they can sell eggs to restaurants, grocery stores and operations such as bed and breakfasts.

Stewart said registering would be too expensive for his small business. "By the time you went through that process, there wouldn't be much money in it. There's very little in it now," he said.

'Free Chicken!'

Josh Weale of Charlottetown started a Facebook group in support of small-scale farmers with free-range chickens. He and others have also written letters to the government.

The group "Free Chicken! (Support PEI's free range chicken farmers.)" had 278 fans as of Monday night and plenty of supporting comments.

"One of the absurdities in this case is that P.E.I. has really been trying to promote this kind of agriculture and this kind of eating experience to visitors to P.E.I.," he said. "It's very strange that one arm of the government is promoting this kind of agriculture, while another arm is trying to hinder it."

The health department said it is just trying to ensure food is safe. Dr. Lamont Sweet, the Island's deputy chief health officer, said there has lately been an increase in North Americans contracting salmonella poisoning from eggs. He said uninspected eggs are the main problem.

"The whole process of graded eggs is to reduce the amount of material on the egg, to make sure the washing procedure is done to an extent which is set at a standard," he said.

Stewart said he does wash his eggs as thoroughly as any egg that's been federally inspected. "That's just an excuse. It's a scare tactic to try and scare people into thinking they're going to get sick," he said.

Stewart and Weale vowed to keep up the pressure on the government to change its policy.