Thursday, March 24, 2011

Home on the Free Range - Eggs

I published the post below back in March of 2011 and I felt inspired to add the latest and greatest news on eggs.  The science, public opinion and policy are ever-changing so I hope you enjoy this new and improved look at eggs!

Free Range, Organic, Grass-Fed, Cage-Free - the backlash against factory farming has produced all sorts of terms and variations on feeding, raising and slaughtering 10 billion animals annually for consumption in the United States. 10 billion animals = BIG business.

Before I went veg, I chose these alternatives whenever possible with the hopes that my fryer somehow lead a brief but happy life or that the hen that laid my eggs got out of the cage each day and hung out with her girlfriends and pecked around the yard. I know...wishful.

After listening to a great podcast from Food For Thought (highly recommend!) entitled The Language of Meat, I thought I'd get out and research these terms for myself. To keep this information in bite-sized pieces (pun intended), today I'm turning the focus toward Organic Egg production. I no longer eat eggs but many people I love do! I found something wonderful that I'd like to share. Read on...

First - it's important to know that the USDA guidelines for the term "Free-Range" only applies to chickens raised for meat production. I will cover the guidelines (or lack thereof) on "Free-Range" fryers in a future post. Warning - it will make you mad. With regard to egg laying hens, cows, pigs, sheep, goats and rabbits, the USDA "relies upon the testimony of the farmers" who label their eggs or other animal products as Free-Range. The term is hot right now so keep your eyes peeled - if you see it on eggs or any other meat besides chicken, it means absolutely nothing.

However, Organic Eggs are another thing all together. I stumbled upon an amazing organization called The Cornucopia Institute that did a two-year study on Organic Egg production. They produced a short video (below) that I encourage you to watch. It is not harsh, there are no bad pictures - this is not the stuff of nightmares - I promise! Just a great video packed with information to make you a more conscientious consumer. The end result of their work is a downloadable "scorecard" that will help you make humane and healthy choices when buying eggs in the supermarket. I think the whole website is fantastic!

The U.S. could definitely take a few pointers from the UK and European Union on egg labeling. In the EU, all "free range" egg-laying hens are guaranteed continuous access to the outside with adequate shelter, water and vegetation on the ground. All eggshells across the EU are stamped with a number to alert the consumer to how the egg was produced (genius!) Organic = 0, Free Range = 1, Barn =2 and Cage = 3. Is that so hard? A large number of farmers in the UK are revolutionizing Free-Range by allowing chickens to be outside continuously from just four weeks of age in plenty of space. Sixteen weeks is the norm. Kudos to the farmers that are taking these steps toward humane treatment of these animals.

One last word on eggs in general. I often hear friends say they eat eggs because it doesn't hurt the animal but whether it's a factory farm, free-range farm, pasture farm or even an organic farm, all of the male chicks are killed through a process called "culling" approximately 72 hours after birth. The chicks are either gassed, electrocuted in large groups, or fed into a live grinding machine called a Macerator.

Chickens that are raised for meat are different breeds than their egg-laying cousins. Rarely do the chicken meat and chicken egg industry cross paths. I didn't know about the culling before I became a vegetarian and it made a difference to me so I thought I'd share the information.

And in the NEW NEWS department, a company called Hampton Creek Foods is on the brink of unleashing a truly vegan EGG!  I can hardly believe it myself.  Please take a moment to watch this video and see how it's done!  Even in the hard moments (like looking at many pictures of chicks being culled to select one for this article) I have HOPE!  A vegan egg would go a long way to ending a whole lot of bad juju in this world. (This company is backed by Bill Gates, FYI!)

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Hopefully, this information will help your voice be heard through your spending dollar. When we know better, we do better and shop smarter.
Eat Kind. Lauren

1 comment:

  1. I love you for all your researchiing and sharing. There wasn't anything terribly gruesome in the video, but the aerial shots of the huge hen houses brings me to tears.
    I have been researching farms around here who are certified by Animal Welfare Approved. There are not many, but I found one up in Washington and plan to make the long drive. I have not eaten meat since my Food Inc. experience, but like you...many people I love will never become vegetarian and I want so bad for everyone I know to be eating food that was treated humanely.
    Thanks Lauren! You inspire!!!!