Farm Photos

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Let's talk about Eggs Ba-by!

As the chicken coop gets final touches and I ready myself to choose the breeds of laying hens that we would like to raise, I thank the universe that I will no longer have to swoon over the isle of egg choices at the supermarket. I can rest assured that my hens are raised humanely, and my eggs are of the utmost freshness and quality. 

Industry poultry farming is an atrocious event; both in production of eggs as well as meat. Whether you are looking at it from an environmental standpoint, an animal welfare perspective or health related concerns industry chicken factories often offer the triple whammy.
Environmentally, high volume chicken sheds produce thousands of tons of toxic waste each year. Much of that flows into bays, rivers, lakes and oceans choking out sea life and ruining aquatic ecosystems. According to Mark Winne,

“In Maryland, the poultry industry went from 90 million chickens in 1960 to 270 million chickens in 2005. As reported in the New York Times, this threefold growth also resulted in a near tripling of chicken manure generated, to 297,000 tons a year, which is largely responsible for the growth of phosphorous and nitrogen levels in the Chesapeake Bay. This pollution caused the number of oystermen who worked the bay to drop from 6,000 a year to fewer than 500. The Heritage Chesapeake Blue Crab population has plummeted by 70 percent.” – Food Rebels, Guerilla Gardeners and Smart Cookin’ Mams Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture; page 36.

The Animal welfare concerns are pages long. From debeaking the birds to reduce cannibalism to force molting (starving) them to induce additional laying cycles the industry has succeeded in completely commoditizing these animals with an absolute lack of love or compassion. EON, an environmental activist group from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut speaks to illuminate the inhumane treatment of poultry livestock in factory farms in an article titled: Factory Egg Farming is bad for the HENS... Check it out here:

It is perhaps the health aspect of it all that pokes at my most ancient sense of self-preservation and probably pushes me the farthest. Yes, I eat organic because I’m selfish, alright? I really don’t want to get cancer, I really want to have babies with all their marbles where they should be. Another quote from Mark Winnes’ Food Rebels,

“As the toll mounts from factory livestock production, we see the risk to the public health change from things we can see, smell, or taste (our senses having always been our best defense against danger) to things that are not easily detectable, things that couldn’t even be imagined many years ago. Human resistance to antibiotics is one such threat. A particular strain of bacteria that, according the Journal of the American Medical Association, is responsible for 19,000 deaths a year in the United States – that’s more than AIDS kills—is winning the war against antibiotics. The widespread non-therapeutic use of antibiotics is suspect as culprit in the skyrocketing number of antibiotic resistance cases in humans.” Page 36-37.

This is a bad cycle. In attempting to raise animals as industrial products we shove a lot of them into tight spaces together. When animals are kept like this, the risk of infection is really high and should infection occur it spreads rampantly. So, antibiotics are given to factory farmed animals (including laying hens) as a preventative measure. Unfortunately, humans are also consuming the drugs in the meat, eggs and milk of these animals. 

“The American Public Health Association called for a moratorium on the development of all future CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) until a series of environmental, health and social issues could be scientifically addressed and resolved. In 2006, the Pew Charitable Trusts convened a commission on industrial farm animals production. This commission issued a report in 2008 recommending new laws regulating pollution from industrial farms, a phasing-out of CAFO’s that restrict ‘natural movement and normal behavior,’ a ban on hormones to promote animal growth, and an application of antitrust laws to encourage more competition and less concentration in the livestock industry.” Mark Winne, Food Rebels…; page 37.

It’s not only antibiotics to be concerned with either, hormones were linked to premature puberty in young Puerto Rican girls consuming chickens with high levels of estradiol,

“An alarming incidence of premature sexual development has been reported in Puerto Rico during the last 7 years. A significant increment of premature thelarche, premature pubarche, prepubertal breast enlargement in boys, and precocious pseudopuberty in girls has been observed throughout the island. Several food specimens analyzed by chromatography and cytosol receptor assay revealed significant levels of estradiol equivalent in some meat samples. We suspect that the early sexual development is caused by exogenous estrogen contamination in the food ingested by the children and by their mothers.” – Sáenz de Rodriguez, Carmen A., Alfred M. Bongiovanni, and Lillian Conde de Borrego. An epidemic of precocious development in Puerto Rican children. "The Journal of pediatrics" 107.3 (1985): 393-396.

While scientists still aren’t entirely conclusive, another paper published in 2011 suggests a link between exposure to environmental estrogens and autoimmune diseases.

“The prevalence of autoimmune diseases has significantly increased over the recent years. It has been proposed that this epidemiological evidence could be in part attributable to environmental estrogens, compounds that display estrogen-like activity and are ubiquitously present in the environment.
Environmental estrogens can be found in a wide variety of foods: phytoestrogens occur in plants such as clover and soy, while mycoestrogens are food contaminants produced by fungi. Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals given exogenous hormones contain relatively high concentration of estrogens. Among xenoestrogens, industrial estrogens are synthetic chemicals produced for specific purposes (pesticides, plastics, surfactants and detergents) while metalloestrogens are found in heavy metals. Estrogens can be also administered through medications (contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy, genistein, cimetidine, creams).”
Chighizola, Cecilia, and Pier Luigi Meroni. The role of environmental estrogens and autoimmunity. "Autoimmunity reviews" (2011).

I’m convinced that I don’t know what’s in factory eggs and that I don’t like the way the animals are treated. I’m also convinced that raising chickens is enjoyable and rewarding. Nothing beats local, farm-fresh chickens. But, if you can’t raise chickens and the supermarket is all you’ve got…what should you buy? Whether you are shopping eggs or meat, there’s your standard Grade A, AA or, you can choose from the “humane” options: Cage Free, Free Range, Vegetarian Fed, All Natural, Organic…the problem is that companies aren’t exactly clear about what these labels mean…and often they don’t mean everything you think they do. 

Grade AA Laying Hens in a Factory Farm
USDA Grades: The grades mean little when it comes to the issues we’ve been talking about. The differences between Grade AA, Grade A and Grade B are aesthetic; shell thickness and smoothness, egg size ect. This is what the USDA concerns itself with in our present state of food crisis:
 For Grade AA - “The shell must be clean, unbroken, and practically normal. The air cell must not exceed 1/8 inch in depth, may show unlimited movement, and may be free or bubbly. The white must be clear and firm so that the yolk is only slightly defined when the egg is twirled before the
 candling light. The yolk must be practically free from apparent defects.”

Cage-Free Farming Operation - NY Times
Cage Free: Well, you’ve graduated from stacked chicken cages to chicken warehouses. Though there may be no bars, these chickens still have no outdoor access and are packed tightly in high volumes. This label makes no promises regarding antibiotic or hormone treatment, type of feed, or other animal welfare issues such as debeaking, forced molting ect.

Free Range: The label free range actually means that these hens get access to the outdoors at some point during their lives. However, most of the time they are in warehouses, as Michael Pollan puts it in The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
Free-Range Farming Operation -
"Since the food and water remain inside the shed, and since the little doors remain shut until the birds are at least five weeks old and well settled into their habits, the chickens apparently see no reason to venture into what must seem for them an unfamiliar and terrifying world."
Again, free range makes no promises regarding drug treatments or specific worrisome farming practices.

Vegetarian Fed: I had to stop and think about this one…besides insects, aren’t all chickens supposed to be herbivores? The phrase ‘supposed to be’ doesn’t necessarily exist in the world of reduction science. In fact, many factory farms throw meat by-product into their chicken feed. Are you sitting down?

“Same Species Meat, Diseased Animals, and Feathers, Hair, Skin, and Blood

The advent of "mad cow" disease (also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) raised international concern about the safety of feeding rendered cattle to cattle. Since the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States, the federal government has taken some action to restrict the parts of cattle that can be fed back to cattle. However, most animals are still allowed to eat meat from their own species. Pig carcasses can be rendered and fed back to pigs, chicken carcasses can be rendered and fed back to chickens, and turkey carcasses can be rendered and fed back to turkeys. Even cattle can still be fed cow blood and some other cow parts. Under current law, pigs, chickens, and turkeys that have been fed rendered cattle can be rendered and fed back to cattle—a loophole that may allow mad cow agents to infect healthy cattle. Animal feed legally can contain rendered road kill, dead horses, and euthanized cats and dogs. Rendered feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, and intestines can also be found in feed, often under catch-all categories like "animal protein products."”

Sapkota, A.R., L.Y. Lefferts, S. McKenzie, and P. Walker. 2007. What do we feed to food-production animals?; Union of Concerned Scientists.

While I’d take veg fed over Grade AA any day, there’s still no mention of the drugs, handling practices, ecological concerns, or the other treatments. 

Organic: According to the USDA website, “The USDA organic seal verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.” After some digging, I was able to find out that organic feed includes all organically grown agricultural product (non-GMO, vegetarian grass and grain, no animal by-products). Additionally, 30 percent of the feed must be non-dry matter meaning that it is freshly grazed (or pecked) from a pasture. You can see the full USDA requirements for organic livestock here:

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm - Organic Meat Farmer, author, and rock-star of Modern Sustainable Meat Farming.
Ecologically there are still issues to work out with what many activists call “industrial organic,” or operations which produce organic product but are as reliant upon fossil fuels and pollute comparably with factory farms. There are many 'organic' farming operations that continue to use industrial top-down business practices and therefore are simply capitalizing on a trend. Joel Salatins operation, featured in the photo above, is not one of those industrial organic farms. In fact his meat-farming techniques have caught like wildfire among organic producers in recent years.

This is why buying eggs from your local farm is the best bet…even if they aren’t certified organic it is likely that they are raising their chickens ‘traditionally’ and without trying, they are meeting organic standards. Always just ask the farmer.
Organic makes promises on several levels, though not cheap. Think about what you are purchasing; ethical peace of mind and health peace of mind.

Sources and Additional Reading:

No comments:

Post a Comment