USA: Report spotlights abuses in organic egg production
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An independent report has been released that focuses on widespread abuses in organic egg production, primarily by large industrial agribusinesses, The Cornucopia Institute reports. The study profiles the exemplary management practices employed by many family-scale organic farmers engaged in egg production, while spotlighting abuses at so-called factory farms, some confining hundreds of thousands of chickens in industrial facilities, and representing these eggs to consumers as “organic.” The report will be formally presented to the US Department of Agriculture at the October meeting of the National Organic Standards Board in Madison, Wisconsin. The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, developed the report, Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture, following nearly two years of research into organic egg production. The report also contains a scorecard rating various egg brands on how their eggs are produced in accordance with federal organic standards and consumer expectations. “After visiting over 15 % of the certified egg farms in the United States, and surveying all name-brand and private-label industry marketers, it’s obvious that a high percentage of the eggs on the market should be labeled „produced with organic feed“ rather than bearing the USDA-certified organic logo,” said Mark A. Kastel, The Cornucopia Institute’s codirector and senior farm policy analyst. According to the United Egg Producers (UEP), the industry lobby group, 80 % of all organic eggs are produced by just a handful of its largest members. Most of these operations own hundreds of thousands, or even millions of birds, and have diversified into “specialty eggs,” which include organic. At least one UEP member, Hillandale Farms, has been implicated in the recent nationwide salmonella outbreak affecting conventional eggs.
Cornucopia’s report focuses not on the size of some of these mammoth agribusinesses but rather on their organic livestock management practices. It says that most of these giant henhouses, some holding 85,000 birds or more, provide no legitimate access to the outdoors, as required in the federal organic regulations. The new report comes at a critical juncture for the organic poultry industry. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert citizen advisory panel set up by Congress to advise the USDA on organic policy, has been debating a set of proposed new regulations for poultry and other livestock that would establish housing-density standards and a clearer understanding of what the requirement for outdoor access truly means. The industry’s largest operators, along with their lobbyists, have been loudly voicing their opposition to requirements for outdoor space. “Many of these operators are gaming the system by providing minute enclosed porches, with roofs and concrete or wood flooring, and calling these structures ‘the outdoors,’” stated Charlotte Vallaeys, a farm policy analyst with Cornucopia and lead author of the report. “Many of the porches represent just 3 to 5 % of the square footage of the main building housing the birds. That means 95 % or more of the birds have absolutely no access whatsoever.” Family-scale organic egg farmers, and their allies, intend to challenge corporate agribusiness lobbyists and make their voices heard at the October 25 meeting of the NOSB. Scrambled Eggs and the organic egg brand scorecard can be viewed here.
The Cornucopia Institute
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