Buying organic eggs is a good way to fight factory farming–but only if you buy eggs from organic farms that raise their hens on pasture.
In a recent investigation of the organic egg industry, the Cornucopia Institute used aerial photography to document the troubling fact that the biggest companies producing organic eggs don’t even give their hens access to the outdoors (a requirement of the federal organic regulations), let alone pasture.
Instead, these corporate agribusinesses confine their egg-laying hens by the tens, or even hundreds of thousands, in huge warehouses.
TAKE ACTION: Tell Egg-Land’s Best and Land O’Lakes you’re boycotting their “organic” eggs until they stop producing them on factory farms.
UPDATE: Emails to Land O’ Lakes CEO and President, Chris Policinski, are not getting through. Let’s call them at 1-800-328-9680 instead! We’ll dig up a few more email addresses to add to this alert, but let’s flood their phones with calls too!
Land O’ Lakes General Inquiries: 1-800-328-9680
Media Inquiries (Larry Meadows): 1-651-375-4010
All of the facilities have this in common: They violate the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules by failing to provide their chickens with meaningful access to the outdoors, much less real pasture.
Why does that matter? Aside from the animal welfare considerations, there are health and nutritional consequences for the birds.
Under natural conditions, when hens are deprived of sunlight and forage they develop life-threatening nutritional deficiencies. To avoid this, farmers feed the chickens synthetic methionine. Unfortunately, the USDA NOP lets organic farmers use the same synthetic methionine supplement that factory farms use—which makes it possible for organic egg-producers to raise their chickens indoors, contrary to NOP rules for organic. (More here.)
Which egg producers are posing as “organic,” but actually operating much like industrial factory farms? There are four of them, and they are responsible for most of the store-brand organic eggs, as well as organic eggs sold by Egg-Land’s Best and Land O’Lakes.
Cal-Maine Foods (Jackson, Miss.): With more than 40 million birds, Cal-Maine is the largest factory farm egg producer in the world, controlling nearly a quarter of U.S. market.
As you can see for yourself in the company’s own video, Cal-Maine’s egg operation is highly industrialized. All factory, no farm. Even newly hatched baby chicks are kept in a metal cabinet of crowded drawers and moved on conveyor belts. Of course, the company’s video doesn’t reveal the true horrors of industrialized egg production.
One of these horrors is animal cruelty. For that, you have to see this video investigation of Cal-Maine, taken by the Humane Society. Cal-Maine defended its use of battery cages by giving nearly $600,000 to the unsuccessful opposition campaign to stop California’s Proposition 2 ballot initiative which banned eggs from hens raised in cages.
Cal-Maine is also a huge polluter. The chicken litter that piles up in its factory farms gets dumped on neighboring communities and into rivers. This practice has been well-documented in articles such as, “Fertilizer creates summer plague,” “Poultry litter dangerous to human health,” “Poultry litter ruined river,” “Arsenic additives blamed for rash of cancer cases,” and “Prairie Grove’s cancer question.”
Cal-Maine’s organic hens aren’t confined to battery cages or given feed laced with arsenic. But its organic production sites are still more factory than farm. The Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint with the USDA NOP against Cal-Maine’s Delta Eggs Farms. Certified organic by Oregon Tilth, this is a 400,000-hen operation with 100,000 hens in each of its four enormous warehouses—and none outdoors. Aerial photos from the Cornucopia Institute’s investigation shows how slim the covered porches on each of these massive buildings is. Even if covered screened porches could be considered real outdoor access, there’s no way all of the birds in these gigantic sheds could all get out there, no matter how hard they try.
Opal Foods (Neosho Mo.): The newest egg conglomerate is Opal Foods, which puts Moark, with more than 16.1 million birds, under the wing of 24.6-million-bird Rose Acre Farms and 7.5-million-bird Weaver Brothers. The three companies are still operating separately, but their combined total of more than 48.2 million birds, pushes Cal-Maine out of the top slot and makes their joint venture the largest egg producer in the world.
Opal Foods carries the baggage that Moark, Rose Acre and Weaver Brothers acquired as they rapidly industrialized over the last few decades, including animal cruelty and the waste they’ve dumped in their communities.
The book, “Eating Between the Lines,” documents a 2005 incident, where a passerby on the way to his son’s soccer game stopped to film workers tossing live hens into a trash bin at a Moark egg farm in Neosho, Mo. (the farm is now owned by Opal). Moark got the resulting animal welfare charges dropped by agreeing to finance a local humane society with a $100,000 donation and to overhaul its euthanasia procedures for what the industry calls “spent” hens. The same book documents the local community’s resistance as Moark expanded its Neosha operation from 2.5 to 5 million hens. Local citizens collected 3,500 signatures in an unsuccessful effort to stop the expansion, citing complaints ranging from soil contamination to an unpleasant fog of ammonia fumes that hangs over the region, a fog referred to as “Moark mornings.”
A Humane Society undercover video investigation of Rose Acre Farms documented the cruelty suffered by their laying hens, including broken bones from unnecessarily rough handling of young hens (pullets) and spent hens (hens that are killed when they no longer produce eggs), untreated prolapsed uteruses, birds unable to reach food or water, and excessive mortality resulting in dead hens rotting in their cages or dropping into manure pits that aren’t cleaned for years.
A Mercy for Animals investigation of Weaver Brothers revealed the same types of animal cruelty. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, company president Tim Weaver dodged the cruelty issue, claiming, in turn, that either those weren’t his hen houses, or that animal rights activists had illegally broken into his hen houses, causing his hens to die from the cold or get poultry diseases.
The Opal Foods rebranding is surely intended to hide past crimes from consumers, but the company’s new image isn’t very reassuring. This video showcases Opal’s new hen houses, which will likely house organic hens which the company describes as “free-roaming.” General Manager Jerry Welch compares the cage-free environment to a jungle gym, but as you can see, it looks more like what it really is, a factory.
Herbruck’s (Saranac, Mich.): Herbruck’s is Michigan’s largest egg producer, with 7 million hens supplying 60 percent of the state’s eggs under the Egg-Land’s Best label, private label store brands and its own Green Meadow brand.
On a national level, Herbruck supplies McDonald’s (with non-organic eggs) through Cargill, and is the fast-food chain’s favorite poster child. When McDonald’s rolled out new animal welfare standards in 2002, they sent reporters to tour a Herbruck’s operation.To promote its new all-day breakfast menu, McDonald’s hired a “mommy blogger” and a “myth buster” to go to Herbruck’s to find out whether the Egg McMuffin was made from real eggs.
Eighty percent of Herbruck’s hens are in cages and the company often speaks on behalf of the industry in favor of maintaining caged systems.
As the poster child for McDonald’s and Cargill, Herbruck’s has managed to keep its nose clean and avoid any animal cruelty investigation scandals. Most battery cage operations aren’t as well groomed. Fellow Cargill supplier Sparboe Farms was dropped by McDonald’s after a Mercy for Animals investigation. But, McDonald’s still gets eggs from Cargill and still uses the inherently cruel battery cage production system.
Herbruck’s is one of the largest organic egg producers, with 1.2 million organic laying hens today. The company said it plans to grow that number to 2 million by 2016.
Herbruck’s does not provide outdoor access to its organic hens, as required by law. Cornucopia Institute investigations of two suppliers of Herbruck’s organic eggs, Burns Poultry and Green Meadows found 70,000 to 85,000 hens confined in a single warehouse, and 6 to 10 warehouses at each site. Not a single bird was visible outside the warehouses when the Cornucopia Institute took aerial photos of Burns Poultry and Green Meadows.
Kreher’s (Clarence, N.Y.): Kerher’s Farm Fresh Eggs is the largest egg producer in New York, with 1.5 million hens. Kreher’s sells its eggs under the Egg-Land’s Best label. The company is also the private-label supplier for all of Wegman’s eggs. Conventional eggs from hens kept in battery cages are 80 percent of Kreher’s business.
In 2007, Kreher’s bought New York’s largest egg farm from Wegman’s after an undercover video investigation by Compassionate Consumers, an animal advocacy group, showed hens with their heads caught in the wire mesh of battery cages, hens submerged in manure pits, and hens living in battery cages with dead birds. Although the campaign to press Wegmans to phase out battery cages has been ongoing, eggs sold under the Wegman’s brand name continue to come from caged hens. In fact, they still come from the same farm.
Kerher’s doesn’t use battery cages in its organic operations, but as you can see in this company-controlled video of a Kreher’s organic operation, their interpretation of the NOP’s rules for access to the outdoors and sunlight, and animals being allowed to exhibit their natural behaviors, is a warehouse with a covered screen porch along the side. This photo essay on a Kreher’s organic operation that was produced by Wegman’s also shows hens kept indoors without outdoor access.
So, it’s not surprising that an aerial photo investigation by the Cornucopia Institute of a Kreher’s organic operation in Clarence, N. Y. found warehouses holding 136,000 to 210,000 hens, none of which were outdoors.
Cal-Maine, Opal, Herbruck’s and Kreher’s should have their organic certifications revoked. Until that happens, we need to boycott the brands they supply, including Egg-Land’s Best, Land O’ Lakes and the supermarket private-label store brands.
What organic egg brands should you buy?
How can you avoid buying eggs from companies that use synthetic methionine as a crutch that allows them to skirt organic’s outdoor access rule? It’s not easy. Unfortunately, Cal-Maine, Opal, Herbruck’s and Kreher’s sell most of the organic eggs found in grocery stores, including the eggs sold under supermarkets’ private labels.
But there are two things you can do.
Second, in addition to boycotting Egg-Land’s Best® or Land O’ Lakes®, never buy store-brand eggs, because the majority of eggs sold under private labels come from the industrial-scale “organic” egg producers listed above.
Thanks Organic Consumers Association for the article