15 June 2011

Consumer watchdog reveals many organic eggs originate from factory farms

Egg farmers are required to follow USDA standards if they want to apply the "organic" label to their products, however a report hatched by a consumer watchdog has revealed these standards are not all they're cracked up to be.

The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit organization which advocates sustainable and organic farming practices, released the results of an investigation (pdf) into organic egg production. The Institute designed an "Organic Egg Scorecard" with "1-Egg" representing the worst rating, and "5-Egg" representing the best. Scoring was based on factors such as transparency, outdoor/indoor space, source of eggs, and hen lifespan.

Out of 83 egg sources investigated, 35 received a "5-Egg" score, 4 received a "4-Egg" score, 9 received a "3-Egg" score, 2 received a "2-Egg" score, and 33 received a "1-Egg" score.

Released last September, the report mentions examples such as that of Herbruck's Poultry Ranch, which raises more than 900,000 "organic" hens, mostly at their Michigan-based facility, yet these hens lack access to the outdoors aside from concrete porches and patios. The Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint with the USDA regarding Herbruck's Poultry Ranch in April 2011, along with a separate complaint against CROPP (also known as "Organic Valley") for selling eggs originating from industrial-scale egg producers.

Since 2002, the term "organic" on food packaging has been regulated by the USDA. According to their website (pdf), for eggs to be considered organic, hens must be provided with proper sanitation, shelter, exercise areas, clean water, shade, access to the outdoors, freedom of movement, reduction of stress/pain, and direct sunlight consistent with the species and environment. However, as evident by the Cornucopia report, such is often not the case.

If consumers wish to purchase truly organic eggs, they would perhaps be better off relying on their own investigative abilities instead of the USDA which in theory promotes hygienic and ethical conditions, but in practice, often fails to enforce them. By rewarding egg producers who go out of their way to treat hens with consideration while neglecting those who are misleading, buyers can advocate meaningful policy changes with their continued support.

Jonathan Reynolds
Jonathan is a freelance writer and blogger residing in upstate New York.

Photo Credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/cursedthing