The FDA Has a Rule Against Defining “The Food Commonly Known As Eggs”

Is this an egg, or almost an egg?

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Panera, in a very clever marketing campaign, has turned up something extremely weird deep within the FDA's Code of Federal Regulations.

Title 21, chapter 1, subchapter B, part 160, subpart B, number 160.100, is a very brief note. Here it is, in its entirety:

“No regulation shall be promulgated fixing and establishing a reasonable definition and standard of identity for the food commonly known as eggs.”

That’s right. Not only is there no singular definition of what constitutes an “egg” on a restaurant menu, but the rule is that there cannot be. Panera, however, is looking to change that. They’ve submitted a petition to the FDA to eliminate this rule and establish a firm definition of an egg.

Their reasoning? Other fast-food, or fast-casual, chains sell items marketed as eggs (in, for example, an egg sandwich) that actually contain non-egg ingredients, like oil, milk, thickeners and stabilizers like guar gum, and other additives. Panera cheerfully told Fortune that its own eggs consist solely of an egg.

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This is a transparent marketing ploy, and normally we’d raise an eyebrow at a stunt like this. But it seems that Panera has actually stumbled on something bizarre and worth digging into. What possible reason could the FDA have for not only declining to define an egg, but for going a step further and actually passing a rule that specifically forbids anyone from defining one?

We’ve reached out to the FDA for comment, but given the government shutdown and ensuing crunch of work as agencies try to catch up, we’re not sure when we’ll get a response. We will update this post when/if we do hear back.

The FDA Has a Rule Against Defining “The Food Commonly Known As Eggs”