The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) is urging consumers in the UK to forget the old wives' tales about eggs and listen instead to the growing body of evidence relating to their health benefits.
A survey carried out by NOP on behalf of the BEIC and released to coincide with next week's British Egg Week shows that almost half the UK's consumers still believe they should not eat more than three eggs a week and that 42 per cent believe that eggs are binding - in other words, that they can cause consumption.
To counter these myths, the BEIC is launching a prototype of a new seven-egg box with each compartment labelled with a different day of the week, and claims that the supermarket chain Waitrose is considering a trial of the box in the near future.
"While the real facts about cholesterol are now apparent, the good news has not yet reached all consumers," the BEIC said. "Comprehensive studies measuring the effect food has on blood cholesterol levels, using data from more than 8,000 men and women as part of the 224 scientific trials conducted over 25 years, have demonstrated conclusively that saturated fat in the diet - in which eggs are relatively low - not dietary cholesterol, is the major contributor to raised blood cholesterol for the population at large."
The BEIC also cited data from a second report, studying more than 100,000 men and women in the US over 14 years, which showed that consumption of up to one egg each day is unlikely to have an adverse impact on the risk of coronary heart disease in healthy men and women. In view of this weight of evidence, the American Heart Association has responded by announcing that most people can now eat an egg a day.
But the chances of the UK being urged to follow suit are still slim, the BEIC said, not least because many health professionals still have "outmoded" opinions about eggs. BEIC surveyed nurses, dietitians and health visitors earlier this year and discovered that one in three of these professionals also believes that too many eggs can cause constipation. The myth is actually derived from the culinary term "to bind", describing how eggs can be used in recipes to bind ingredients together, the BEIC explained.
"More than half the population continue to wrongly believe these myths. If we were able to finally explode it, the affect on sales could be huge," said Andrew Parker, chairman of the BEIC.
"Eggs are fabulously nutritious, packed with protein and essential vitamins and they are relatively low in calories, with just 76 calories per medium egg. Most of the population can happily eat an egg a day with no adverse effects."
The British currently eat their way through a staggering 30 million eggs a day; 10 billion a year, with 80 per cent of sales going to eggs bearing the Lion mark - a guarantee that the eggs come from British hens vaccinated against salmonella. The NOP survey showed that two-thirds of consumers were reassured by the Lion mark, which also includes a 'best before' date stamp to ensure the eggs are even fresher than required by law.
Over the past three years, more than 200,000 eggs have been independently tested and all were found to be free of salmonella - a message which the BEIC is keen to get across to consumers, many of whom still have clear memories of MP Edwina Currie's 1988 statement (later proved to be erroneous) that most of the eggs in Britain were tainted with salmonella.
That injudicious statement led to the junior health minister's resignation, the slaughter of four million hens and the destruction of nearly 400 million surplus eggs. The industry has taken a long time to recover, and the persistant myths about egg safety have done little to speed up the process.
The NOP research, which was carried out among 1,000 people aged 15 and over, also revealed that scrambled eggs are the favourite egg meal, with fried eggs in second place. Omelette, egg and soldiers and poached egg were the next most popular.