Did you know the hens that laid your “organic” eggs may have never set foot on bare earth or seen the light of day?
An “organic” farm in Michigan keeps 1.6 million hens locked up three-per-square-foot in long, dark metal barns with no access to the outdoors, reports The Chicago Tribune.
The USDA requires farms carrying the “organic” label to provide animals access to the “outdoors,”“direct sunlight” and “fresh air” and prohibits “continuous total confinement of any animal indoors.”
Yet Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Saranac, Michigan, and several other mega farms across the country get around those regulations by building small “porches” at the end of the “barns.”
The porches have concrete floors, roofs and solid walls on three sides, but on one side, they are screened in, giving the few birds lucky enough to make their way past the other 200,000 birds a glimpse of the outside world.
One in ten cartons of eggs labeled “USDA organic” comes from farms like this.
Some agencies, such as California Certified Organic Farmers, refuse to certify such operations as “USDA Organic.”
But, because organic farmers can select their own inspection agency, farmers who want to keep hens confined can just hire a more lenient agency, like Quality Assurance International.
For years, small organic farmers who play by the rules have sought to clarify the regulations, demanding that the USDA enforce the outdoors requirement.
In 2011, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board voted unanimously to classify porches on henhouses as “indoors,” not outdoors. The board said each bird should have at least 1.5 square feet of indoor space and 2 square feet of outdoor space.
The rules were set to change to reflect those recommendations under the Obama Administration, but objections by mega farms like Herbruck’s in Michigan, Kreher’s in New York, and Cal-Maine in Kansas caused the USDA to backpedal on the issue shortly after President Trump’s electjon.
So, until the USDA decides to enforce its own rules and/or get more specific about them, the organic label often means close to nothing as far as animal welfare goes.
The hens might be eating organic grains, but they are getting no room to roam, fresh air or sunlight, all of which are required for healthy animals and healthy eggs.
Also, because of crowding and subsequent aggressive behavior, birds in these organic mega farms are still getting their beaks trimmed, as is noted on Herbruck’s website.
This is why real organic farmers like Pete and Gerry’s don’t want factory farmer’s tarnishing the label “organic.”
Pete and Gerry’s require all their farmers to provide real outdoor space for their chickens (although it’s not as high quality as the outdoor space given to “pasture-raised” hens).
“We think that’s what consumers expect of organic eggs,” Jesse Laflamme, co-owner Pete and Gerry’s Organics told the Tribune.