Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unhealthy 'Organic' Eggs in your markets

The healthier the hen, the healthier her eggs, and outdoor access to real chicken food instead of chemically processed feed is a major part of optimal health for food producing animals. A Mother Earth News 2007 study showed big differences in nutrition between factory-farmed and organically raised eggs.

Eggs from hens raised on pasture, compared to federal data on factory-farmed eggs, may contain: 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene. These dramatically differing nutrient levels are most likely the result of the differences in diet between free-range pastured hens, vs. commercially farmed hens.

Health conscious organic consumers expect organic free-range eggs to be produced by hens that have ample access to the outdoors. But as The Cornucopia Institute says in a ground-breaking report, "a high percentage of the eggs on the market should be labeled 'produced with organic feed' rather than bearing the USDA-certified organic logo," because many of these birds never actually get to set foot outdoors. Mass-producing organic egg farmers circumvent the free-range criteria by providing tiny enclosed porches with roofs and concrete or wood flooring – a far cry from what most organic consumers would associate with the word "free-range."

According to Cornucopia: "Many of the porches represent just 3 to 5 percent of the square footage of the main building housing the birds. That means 95 percent or more of the birds have absolutely no access whatsoever."

Champoeg Organic Eggs (in Aurora, OR!) got the one-egg award in the report for "ethically deficient - industrial organics/no meaningful outdoor access and/or none were open enough to participate.”

Brands with a “1-egg” rating are generally produced on industrial-scale egg operations that grant no meaningful outdoor access. “Outdoor access” on these operations generally means a covered concrete porch that is barely accessible to the chick- ens. Means of egress from the buildings are intentionally small to discourage birds from going outside, and make it possible for only a small percentage of birds to have “access” to the outdoors. No producers in this category were willing to participate in The Cornucopia Institute’s project, and none shared their production practices with Cornucopia researchers. This is disturbing to many organic consumers, since transparency has always been viewed as a hallmark of the organic food movement.
Also slammed for prison-like farming techniques were producers whose eggs are likely to appear in your local markets: Chino Valley Ranchers, Eggland's Best, Eggology, Glaum Egg Ranch, Horizon Organic, Land O'Lakes, Nest Fresh, and Oakdell.

House brand labels like Costco's Kirkland Signature, Safeway's O Organics, Trader Joe's, Walmart's Great Value, and Whole Foods' 365 Organic also were found to be predominantly jail-farmed.

"Two-egg" outfits were described as

'Some Questions Remain Concerning Compliance with Federal Standards': These are either industrial-scale operations or others with outstanding questions or concerns regarding their compliance with USDA regulations. One of the primary features that distinguish these organizations from the ethically challenged brands below is their willingness to share with their customers (and Cornucopia researchers) some of the details as to how their chickens are cared for and how their eggs are actually produced.
The Country Hen was the only such egg brand likely to appear here.

Wilcox Farms, Stiebrs, Clover Organic Farms and Organic Valley (in order of quality) received a "Three-Egg" rating:

“Very Good”—Organic, Complying with Minimum USDA Standards. Brands with a three-egg rating are very good choices. Eggs from brands in this category either come from family-scale farms that provide outdoor runs for their chickens, or from larger-scale farms where meaningful outdoor space is either currently granted or under construction. All producers in this category appear committed to meeting organic standards for minimum outdoor space for laying hens.

Hi-Q's eggs got the “4-egg” rating:

“Excellent”—Organic Promoting Outdoor Access: Producers in this category provide ample outdoor space and make an effort to encourage their birds to go outside. They provide an excellent outdoor environment, often either rotated pasture or well-managed outdoor runs, with an adequate number of popholes/doors for the chickens to reach the outdoors.

Misty Meadows Farm, Trout Lake Abbey, Skagit River Ranch, Vital Farms, and Phoenix Egg Farm received the top "5-egg" scores:

“Exemplary”—Beyond Organic: Producers in this top tier manage diverse, small- to medium-scale family farms. They raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in fixed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture. They sell eggs locally or regionally under their farm’s brand name, mostly through farmer’s markets, food cooperatives and/or independently owned natural and grocery stores and sometimes through larger chains like Whole Foods.

Thanks to for analysis of the report and background, and to The Cornucopia Institute for the research on these, and other, industrial farms masquerading as organic. And, here's a recap on what's really organic on Oregon/Washington eggs, with the best farms at the top, to add to your shopping list:

  1. Misty Meadows Farm
  2. Trout Lake Abbey
  3. Skagit River Ranch
  4. Vital Farms
  5. Phoenix Egg Farm
  6. Hi-Q
  7. Wilcox Farms
  8. Stiebrs
  9. Clover Organic Farms
  10. Organic Valley

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