August 29, 2010

Salmonella and Factory Farms: Scrambled Together. {Plus, Coupons} ~ Steve Hoffman

Egg on the Face of Factory Farms.

A half a billion and counting. That’s how many eggs were recalled last month because of salmonella contamination on two large-scale Iowa egg farms.

The recall is one of several recent scares linked to factory farms, where poultry and livestock are kept in confined and otherwise inhumane conditions.

Fox News has reported that one of the recalled egg producers has a history of violations dating back to 1994. However, the FDA says the violations lie outside its regulatory arena, and the USDA has never had a food safety inspector visit.

You, too, may not want to visit these farms. Chickens are packed to warehouse rafters and kept in cages so small and close they can barely turn around and must have their beaks cut to keep from pecking each other.

The close quarters means disease spreads fast, so factory farms often administer preventive antibiotics. However, the frequent use of antibiotics in factory farms is linked to increases in antibiotic-resistant diseases in human populations. Furthermore, large-scale animal farms produce large-scale animal waste. Unsustainable waste.

Score One For the Chickens.

Fortunately, farmers and activists in Ohio recently reached an agreement to restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs and veal calves. The agreement is a major animal welfare victory and further indication that, as the New York Times forecasts, “so-called factory farming – a staple of modern agriculture that is seen by critics as inhumane and a threat to the environment and health – is on the verge of significant change.”

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland had encouraged the farmers to meet with the Humane Society. The farmers, hoping to avoid a November ballot referendum on humane animal treatment, did meet and the two sides agreed to ban the building of new egg farms with close cages as well as to phase out the close caging of pregnant sows within 15 years and the close caging of veal calves within seven years.

After Iowa, Ohio is the second largest egg producer—so the agreement is a big step in the right direction.

There are, however, many more steps to take. The agreement does not affect existing factory farms in Ohio. Factory farms like the one the New York Times describes as 268,000 small white hens in cages “about the size of an open newspaper, six or seven to a cage.”

Factory farms that produce more than 90% of the country’s eggs.

Don’t Panic, Buy Organic.

Organic eggs may cost more (see video, below) but they are also worth more—and they’re safer. Organic eggs are produced by chickens with access to the outdoors and contain more essential fatty acids. Also, some, myself included, find organic eggs have more flavor and have richer, deeper yolks. And organic eggs have no antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones or pesticides, so they lessen the amount of toxic chemicals in your diet.

In my own area, you can find humanely grown organic eggs at Vitamin Cottage’s Natural Grocers, Sprouts Farmers Market and Whole Foods Market by producers such as Horizon, Organic Valley, Cyd’s Nest Fresh and Vital Farms. I’m actually partial to the mixed dozen of fresh green and brown eggs from Grant Family Farms just north of Fort Collins — available through Grant Farms’ CSA as well as Whole Foods’ Colorado stores.

For budget-minded consumers (aren’t we all?) who want to support ethical treatment of animals, visit the natural and organic foods coupon sites. Organic Valley offers $1 off coupons on their website. Horizon offers coupons on its website. And here’s an organic egg coupon resource, too.

Humane animal treatment – what an egg-cellent idea!



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