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The Organic Egg Scorecard from the Cornucopia Institute
October 5, 2010 5:11 PM   Subscribe

The Cornucopia Institute's Organic Egg Scorecard ranks egg producers on a scale from 1 to 5 eggs, using criteria like outdoor access, indoor space per bird, ownership structure, beak trimming and other factors [pdf]. The scorecard is part of the Institute's new report, Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture. The executive summary [pdf] provides some political context.

"Whole Foods, Walmart, A&P, Costco, Meijer, Safeway, and Trader Joe's store-brand eggs all received the lowest possible rating in Cornucopia's study."
posted by mediareport (69 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
...Whole Foods, Walmart, A&P, Costco, Meijer, Safeway, and Trader Joe's

I smell a merger in the works.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:22 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The same site has a pdf mapping recent organic food company acquisitions that is pretty cool.
posted by benzenedream at 5:22 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. I guess I have a problem with the "organic egg scorecard" then, because I've always assumed that "organic" and "free range" are two completely different claims, as evidenced by the different and not always co-existent designations on our egg cartons. Why oh why, Cornocopia Institute, "Promoting Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming" is free-range necessarily a condition of organic eggs, leading you to have a problem with all these major food outlets?

The wiki entry on "organic egg production" states:

Organic egg production is the production of eggs through organic means. In this process, the poultry are fed organic feed. Organic does not mean that the poultry must have access to the outdoors or are in a cage-free environment.

The only thing I see there even suggesting otherwise (by way of proviso) is: "Organic certification also requires maintenance of basic animal welfare standards." That's it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:23 PM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Really more of an "egg-producer scorecard" than an "egg scorecard."

And really, no Marin Sun?
posted by rhizome at 5:28 PM on October 5, 2010


"Organic" is about what's in the egg. "Free-range" has to do with what's outside the chicken.
posted by rhizome at 5:30 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yes, and last time I checked "Free-range" means slightly less than nothing.
posted by koeselitz at 5:37 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Durn, the issue of "basic animal welfare standards" is actually pretty central to the debate in the food industry right now over the word organic. "Access to outdoors" is actually now part of the definition (though apparently easy to fake), but large-scale factory farm corporations are trying to remove it completely so they can still call themselves "organic" without offering the kind of freedom most consumers think of when they buy organic eggs:

Steve Kopperud, a lobbyist whose firm's clients include the National Renderers Association and the Animal Health Institute, wrote at BrownfieldAgNews.com in March that the NOSB should not consider "animal-welfare" standards. He thinks organic should mean only an absence of man-made chemicals.
posted by mediareport at 5:38 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


This post is a bad yolk.
posted by jonmc at 5:38 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


(And in fact, since "free range" means almost nothing, and since "organic" includes the almost-nothing that is the definition of "free range," "organic" is probably a much better metric of the freedom of a chicken's range than "free range" has ever been.)
posted by koeselitz at 5:40 PM on October 5, 2010


"Whole Foods, Walmart, A&P, Costco, Meijer, Safeway, and Trader Joe's store-brand eggs all received the lowest possible rating in Cornucopia's study."


Nooooooooooooooo!
posted by nola at 5:42 PM on October 5, 2010


large-scale factory farm corporations are trying to remove it completely so they can still call themselves "organic" without offering the kind of freedom most consumers think of when they buy organic eggs.

I'd like to see a citation for the "most consumers" part, as I'm not sure who's the one doing the redefining. If I go ask 100 people what they think "organic eggs" means, you figure most of them will tell me unprompted that it includes a free-range environment? I don't.

Absence of man-made chemicals? Yep. That's exactly what I expect from the label "organic". Don't get me wrong; I'd prefer both.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:44 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Argh. When I can't get to the farmer's market, I always just try to buy the grocery store's most expensive eggs, because I figured it must cost the most to raise chickens humanely. I need to stop throwing away my money.
posted by something something at 5:45 PM on October 5, 2010


Does anyone know anything about the "free range-ness" of Fresh & Easy's eggs? I can't find any info on the PDF or with cursory Googling.
posted by Kloryne at 5:46 PM on October 5, 2010


Yeah, but didn't they basically punt on the private label ratings? I can understand the difficulties in comparison involved since private label eggs can come from any of a large number of different farms. However, shouldn't that mean they should be outside of this rating scheme, not pegged on the lowest rung? A clearer message of "we don't know" would have been more honest.
posted by mollweide at 5:47 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Beef from Argentina is free range, and it is considered superior to most beef raised in the US...I assume that free range for chickens merely means not squeezed into cages, side by side, but certainly not wandering around acres of organic grasses. This is why I almost always boil or fry an egg rather than eating it raw. That way you kill whatever bad shit the dumb chicken nibbled on.
Try that method rather than eating eggs uncooked.
posted by Postroad at 5:52 PM on October 5, 2010


If I go ask 100 people what they think "organic eggs" means, you figure most of them will tell me unprompted that it includes a free-range environment? I don't.

Fair enough, Durn; I can't be sure. Let's substitute "myself and the friends I know who buy organic" for "most consumers," then.

Which, of course, is why I found the scorecard so useful. I'd been buying Horizon eggs, always with the nagging thought "shit I should really look into this more because I have no idea how Horizon treats its chickens and I know organic is defined so loosely it's almost meaningless," so was interested to see Horizon at the bottom of the list. I'm not a rabid vegetarian but I really, really don't want to support standard factory farming, and feel at least a little more informed about what egg brands to buy in the future. This report is almost exactly what I'd been wanting as a good little capitalist egg consumer.
posted by mediareport at 5:54 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's cool, mediareport. Obviously, my take on "organic" eggs stems from my own little circle. The times I've been forced to choose between "free range" and "organic", I've gone free range because that's where my major concerns lie, suspecting at the same time that the term isn't standardized and regulated the way organic has. In future, we'll probably be getting our stuff from a nearby farm some friends are starting up so we'll have a thorough understanding of the conditions and not have to depend on any label.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:58 PM on October 5, 2010


has become, that is. Or at least fought over the same way.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:59 PM on October 5, 2010


They have a dairy chart as well:

http://www.cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html

I've been buying "Clover" milk.
4 Cows!

I feel good.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:04 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is not a problem for me.
posted by dersins at 6:06 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The sticker on the carton of eggs in my fridge (grammar and emphasis preserved):

Gillham Eggs
1 dozen brown eggs from 14535 County Rd 42, Guinda, CA -
County Producers Certificate 570947

These eggs were laid by healthy, respected Black Star and Production Red hens that live in the Gillham's Black Walnut Orchard. Our farm has partnered with the Gillhams for the production of eggs.

These hens spend their evenings roosting in houses in the orchard where they are protected from nocturnal predators (Bobcats and Racoons) and they are supplied with chicken food (not organic) to supplement their day's diet from the orchard.

Don Gillham opens the houses with the sun light and the hens exit their bedroom to spend their day scratching the orchard floor eating pasture, alfalfa hay and seasonal produce scraps from Capay Organic's vegetable farm.

Hens return to their home during the day to lay their daily egg, if they need to, but most of a hen's day is spend outside under the walnut trees. As the sun sets the hens return on their own will to the house. Don shows up at dark to shut the door to their bedroom for a safe night of roosting, resting and laying.

This is the true story of these eggs.
Support the hard work of these hens! - Thaddeus


A slick bit of marketing, to be sure, but I value the transparency. (And yes, cynics, maybe I'm a fool for believing the carton.)
posted by mollymayhem at 6:08 PM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Actually looks like those store brands got "1 egg" ratings because they refused to provide the information these Cornucopia people requested -- not because of the way their eggs are produced.
posted by eugenen at 6:11 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


PS: They are delicious, with the most amazing vivid orange yolks.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:19 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The first two pages are mostly things that aren't actually relevant to how the chickens are raised.

I understand that a large company is more likely to make mistakes and cut corners, but having it on the actual scorecard seems awkwardly prejudiced.
posted by EtzHadaat at 6:25 PM on October 5, 2010


to spend their day scratching the orchard floor eating pasture, alfalfa hay and seasonal produce scraps from Capay Organic's vegetable farm. working their day job in the pest control sector.

FTFY
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:28 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


A quick look at 14535 County Rd 42, Guinda, CA in Google Earth reveals a small farm surrounded by orchards. Gillham eggs might be legit!
posted by UrbanEye at 6:30 PM on October 5, 2010


I'm lucky enough to get eggs from one of the five-egg producers at my local co-op, but man, do I miss my chickens.
posted by padraigin at 6:42 PM on October 5, 2010


Get your own chickens. A few hens are easier to take care of than a dog or cat, just as nice, and, if you have enough yard that they can wander around and scratch in, they will happily, charmingly supply you with the most delicious, beautiful eggs. Yolks the shape of superballs and the color of saffron. They make even high end supermarket eggs look weak and half-assed.

Supplement with some kirchen scraps and maybe some nice feed, and you never have to worry about these sorts of horrors again.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:45 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Country Hen only got two eggs? But there's a little newsletter in each carton! I've been following the story of their poor arthritic goat and his spry new replacement for months now!
posted by mittens at 6:52 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


large-scale factory farm corporations are trying to remove it completely so they can still call themselves "organic" without offering the kind of freedom most consumers think of when they buy organic eggs.

And hence, the perennial problem with the term "Organic". And it doesn't just apply to eggs. Once upon a time, organic meant "without man-made chemicals", but intrinsic within that was the idea that, by meeting that criteria, your food would probably come from a small, local farm, because they were the only places not using those chemicals. Implicit in "organic" were ideas about transport distance, energy use, environmental friendliness, animal welfare.

Then a bunch of commercial enterprises figured out there was serious money to be made from this whole "organic" thing. Value adding. So suddenly there was organic certification, regulatory bodies. The strict meaning of organic never changed, but all the other things that, by default, went along with "organic" disappeared.

I can go and buy Certified Organic eggs, or meat, or vegetables, but that tells me almost nothing about the environmental and ethical impact of the food. Now, personally, I don't actually care about man-made chemicals that much. Which is why I ignore fancy "organic" labels, and buy from local farmers markets whenever I can. I'd rather low-impact than chemical-free.

I think a lot of consumers need some serious education, because this whole issue stems from the fact that people buy things with an "organic" label on it thinking that means it's 100% fantastically green and ethical, when it often means little more than "we avoided spraying this with glyphosate so we can charge you 150% extra for it!"
posted by Jimbob at 7:00 PM on October 5, 2010 [9 favorites]


Get your own chickens. A few hens are easier to take care of than a dog or cat, just as nice, and, if you have enough yard that they can wander around and scratch in, they will happily, charmingly supply you with the most delicious, beautiful eggs. Yolks the shape of superballs and the color of saffron. They make even high end supermarket eggs look weak and half-assed.

Supplement with some kirchen scraps and maybe some nice feed, and you never have to worry about these sorts of horrors again.


Everything you say is true except the "easier to take care of than a dog or cat" part--it's a fairly significant investment in time and money at the start, honestly, and if you're in an urban area it can be more challenging with regard to zoning (the hoops I'll have to jump through where I live now to get neighbor approval are probably going to be a bigger pain in the ass than dealing with wintering the birds in sub-zero temperatures).

But once they're big girls, it really is awfully easy and they are an endless source of entertainment--we called it "Chicken TV" and we'd just sit in our back yard in California and watch them run around for hours, drinking beers and thinking about omelets.
posted by padraigin at 7:07 PM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think it's a good thing that they put the uncooperative companies in the one-egg category. This is the kind of pressure that helps force a company to be more transparent. The more transparency the better.
posted by oddman at 7:35 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


One of my friends raises fighting chickens. I've been trying to persuade him to move over into eggs and fryers, and have tried to figure out the economics of it. I can't help but think that a combination of chickens and composting of green waste would be a winner.

My thought is that the biggest problem with commercial chickens out here is the cost of feed, and letting them scratch through the compost for bugs would drive that way down. Then they richen up the compost with their droppings, and you sell the eggs, the pullets, and the compost at a premium price.

Maybe if he gets a bit of jail time he'll listen...
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:36 PM on October 5, 2010


One of my friends raises fighting chickens.

Really? Does he run a cat declawing clinic on the side?
posted by nola at 7:50 PM on October 5, 2010



A quick look at 14535 County Rd 42, Guinda, CA in Google Earth reveals a small farm surrounded by orchards. Gillham eggs might be legit!


This is also Capay Organics, who run Farm Fresh to You. We get organic veggies and fruit from them delivered to our door in Sacramento. I gotta get me some of their eggs! Maybe I'll see if we can get some this weekend if we go visit the farm.
posted by Big_B at 7:51 PM on October 5, 2010


mollymayhem: Here are your chickens!
posted by Big_B at 7:53 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


@nola: Nope, but he gave me two kittens last year that his son had rescued from being dumped. I know, it's some serious cognitive dissonance. He grew up in a family of cock-fighters, he's fought chickens his whole life, he's been arrested for it several times, and he makes decent side money selling fighting chickens.

Like I said, maybe he needs a little jail time, because the fines have only kept him out of the ring (so far as I know). I'd really like to see him get into a more legitimate use of his chicken-raising skills. And maybe I could get some free-range eggs off of him then.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:03 PM on October 5, 2010


I'm surprised there isn't mob of angry customers loaded on two buck chuck hurling cartons of eggs at these organic scam artists.
posted by humanfont at 8:03 PM on October 5, 2010


I believe it's time people went on youtube and search: Julia Child Omelette

Seriously though, I really enjoyed this post and I looked up my local farmer and sent him an email inquiring where one might buy a dozen units of egg product.
posted by uraniumwilly at 8:05 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is really, really helpful to me, I've asked again and again about the eggs I've purchased, as I don't believe what these people say on their label. Never gotten an answer, not once. But this has given me answers. Good answers, too -- there is a farm here in Austin that I can (and will) buy from, and who knows, maybe they'd give a bit of a discount if I showed up with my own cartons -- I'm gonna call them tomorrow to find out about that.

The way we treat animals is horrific. And no one wants to look, everyone knows on some level the hell they are contributing to but they just refuse to look, most of them. I'm of the belief that anyone can eat meat, no problem, but at least once per year they ought to find out how that meat is produced, and spend a bit of time turning it from animal into meat. These birds and cows aren't just stuff in plastic, they're our fellow travelers here, suffering hugely, monumentally -- it's sickening, and it's sick, and it's happening right now, and if you've cheap eggs in your fridge you're contributing to it.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:13 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Get your own chickens. A few hens are easier to take care of than a dog or cat, just as nice, and, if you have enough yard that they can wander around and scratch in, they will happily, charmingly supply you with the most delicious, beautiful eggs. Yolks the shape of superballs and the color of saffron. They make even high end supermarket eggs look weak and half-assed.

I wish I could, but I think both the chickens and I would hate them sharing my studio apartment.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:14 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was just being a smart ass, Jimmy. Declawing cats is kind of a running joke around here. In that it's has been a hot button topic, and I just all but spit out my drink when I read, "One of my friends raises fighting chickens." Cause around here that's like saying "I know this guy who likes eating fetus brains" at a Pro Life rally. I've already said to much.
posted by nola at 8:15 PM on October 5, 2010


I'm surprised anyone would buy meat and produce from Trader Joe's. They're good for prepackaged non-perishables, but anything else is about a day from spoilage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:17 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


local farm, local farm, local farm. Want to know how your eggs were made? Go out and see.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you for this post.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:28 PM on October 5, 2010


I had the opportunity to collaborate in a small way with Mark Kastel of Cornucopia Institute when they were ramping up their dairy project. They do great, very important work fighting for the integrity of the US organic standards.

This stuff does make a difference, at least with some producers. When Cornucopia published their first dairy report, for example, Whole Foods fared very poorly. However, the company responded and new it looks like they get 4 cows. That means, for example, the cows are given meaningful access to pasture rather than being confined to feedlots. Cornucopia also got Organic Valley to drop its contract with a large factory-farm milk producer. (I believe all the rest of Organic Valley's milk production is from small scale traditional organic dairies.)

It's good to see they're shining their light on eggs. Time to write a letter to Whole Foods, I guess.
posted by alms at 8:47 PM on October 5, 2010


Hmm. Part of me is very apprehensive about these sort of surveys -- they seem to have been designed with a predetermined conclusion already in mind; namely, that small family farms do better than big chains. (Actually, this is the very first criteria on the survey...the authors make no secret of conflating their ideals about animal wellbeing with their ideals about economics. )

Reading further down on the survey shows more troubling factors: Failure to answer a question results in a seemingly-arbitrary number of points docked. If you fail to respond to the survey, you're automatically categorized as "Ethically Deficient," which must be the case for ALL of the store brands, given that they'd score 70 points off the bat for being "Investor Owned." Up to an additional (arbitrarily-assigned) points may be assigned for the owner's willingness to cooperate with the survey-takers.

Except for Trader Joes, which is a privately owned chain that buys from a wide variety of suppliers. Where do they fit into the "Ownership Structure" category? Do they really expect a national chain to investigate each one of its suppliers?

Moving onward:
Penalties are assigned to farms who operate more than one farm, or supplement their supplies with eggs from other farms (regardless of the quality of those farms). Penalties are also assigned if the farmers do not live on the farm.

Penalties are assigned if the farm also produces non-organic products. Although this is a nice indication of a company's ethics, it has absolutely nothing to do with the specific product at hand.

The area of outdoor space afforded to each chicken is only weighted as 100 points. If anything, this should be one of the most highly-weighted factors, along with beak trimming.

There are also a number of criteria relating to the manner in which the chickens are handled, which I cannot comment on as a non-dairy-farmer, although they seem legitimate enough to me.

If nothing else, the survey is a good means for single-owner family farms who treat their chickens ethically to give themselves a nice pat on the back. On the other hand, it provides misleading information to consumers regarding national brands, includes criteria about things that have nothing to do with chickens or eggs, and doesn't indicate up front that every brand that failed did so simply because they didn't respond to the survey.

How arrogant.
posted by schmod at 9:01 PM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Legitimately free-range chickens eat a lot of weeds and bugs. Their eggs are very obviously different than store-bought eggs. First of all, they're really hard to break. The membrane just inside the shell is very tough. I often have to pierce the membrane with a knife just to get a clean break. There have been a few that I was able to completely shell without breaking the membrane. It's possible this may be a function of freshness, rather than diet.

But the biggest difference in truly free-range chicken eggs is the yolk. Once you manage to get the out of its shell, you should find a ridiculously saturated orange ball. The color of the yolk should make you question its biological origin. Great painters have died of heavy metal poisoning trying to achieve colors this vivid. Even after being beaten into a homogenous mass, the eggs should still be as orange as the orangest orange juice you've ever seen.

I remember asking my friends, "What do you feed these chickens, cadmium?"

"Uh, no. But the fisherman at the farmers' market gave us a bunch of salmon heads for some eggs."

"Jesus christ, your chickens eat salmon?"

"Yeah, it's really fun feeding it to them. They go completely apeshit for salmon. But we can't give them too much or it makes the eggs fishy."

I'm pretty sure those chickens ate better than the farmers.
posted by ryanrs at 10:11 PM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is quite possibly the least objective scoring system I've ever seen.

First of all, no answer is not a zero. Surveys are not school assignments. You get no data, you have to report no data. Reporting zeros for groups that didn't answer your surveys is dishonest, and reporting low scores for groups that didn't respond to your entire survey is extremely dishonest. People can usually figure out that a rating of zero might mean there's something wrong with the data, but low numbers do not trigger this response.

Also, what kind of insane definition of organic is this? Ownership structure has nothing to do with the generally accepted definition of organic. Whether the owner lives or works on the farm has nothing to do with the product is organic. Why do you score certifying agency when you're supposed to be checking these places yourself? So many factors are included that don't have anything to do with organic. This clearly reflects (and incorporates intot he results) bias from the authors on the 'right' way to do organic farming. Also, am I the only one who doesn't consider 'free-range' and 'organic' to be the same thing?

I honestly barely care about the egg thing to begin with (since I can't cook, I don't have much use for raw eggs) but these study is just so bad it angered me anyway. So many people try to hide shoddy, biased, or incomplete research behind nice round looking numbers.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:12 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Humane Society has a good summary page listing the different types of labels and what they mean. As mentioned in the full report (pdf) listed above:
The most meaningful animal welfare label, for laying hens, appears to be the Animal Welfare Approved label, since it is the only one that guarantees the birds were allowed to go outside and exhibit their natural behavior outdoors.
The Animal Welfare Approved website has a handy search tool where you can determine where to find eggs meeting their standards.
posted by funkiwan at 12:37 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, they need to ditch ownership structure. We're trying to raise healthy kids not communists.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:51 AM on October 6, 2010


This clearly reflects... bias from the authors on the 'right' way to do organic farming.

It does indeed reflect bias, and the Cornucopia Institute would be the first people to admit that. The USDA Organic Standard wasn't delivered on tablets by God. It was created through a legislative and regulatory process.

Large multinational corporations have spent a lot of money lobbying for changes to the organic standard that would allow things like factory farming of animals and the inclusion of genetically modified ingredients. They are on one side of this fight.

The Cornucopia Institute is on the other side. They fight hard for family farms, for the humane treatment of animals, and for a broad definition of "organic." They argue (and I agree with them), that US consumers believe that organic foods embody this larger set of characteristics.

You may buy organic milk because you're a biologist and you understand the damage that overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is causing. But many other people buy organic milk because they are "animal people" and they don't like the idea of getting milk that's produced in a tight-packed feed lot by cows who have no access to pasture.

The value of the organic standard --- and the willingness of people to pay higher prices for organic foods --- depends on public confidence. And yes, small-scale farming is part of the value proposition; it's what people expect to get for that higher organic price. Just look at all the pictures of happy cows and little farmhouses on the sides of organic products and you'll see how important it is.

Cornucopia is up front about all this. It says it right there on their home page:
The Cornucopia Institute Mission
Seeking economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy, and economic development our goal is to empower farmers - partnered with consumers - in support of ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food.
Reporting zeros for groups that didn't answer your surveys is dishonest, and reporting low scores for groups that didn't respond to your entire survey is extremely dishonest.

This isn't an academic report; it's an advocacy document. The reality of corporate advocacy is that corporations don't consider you a friend. They will often not want to cooperate because they prefer the freedom of action that comes with secrecy. Because of this dynamic, corporate advocates need to build in incentives for participation and disincentives for non-cooperation.

The report is completely upfront about the methodology used. They're not hiding it, and they're not trying to mislead anyone. That's completely legitimate.
posted by alms at 5:58 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, what does it mean if the place I get my eggs isn't on this list?
posted by enn at 6:11 AM on October 6, 2010


Actually looks like those store brands got "1 egg" ratings because they refused to provide the information these Cornucopia people requested -- not because of the way their eggs are produced.

Seems like a fair judgment call to me. If there's ever a reason for not participating, that is not allowing someone to stop by and take a look at your farm, it is most likely because your farm is an abomination.
posted by tybeet at 6:15 AM on October 6, 2010


The Animal Welfare Approved website has a handy search tool where you can determine where to find eggs meeting their standards.

Holy cow that's awesome. I just found a farm nearby. Thanks, funkiwan!

Mitrovarr: Also, what kind of insane definition of organic is this? Ownership structure has nothing to do with the generally accepted definition of organic.

Wow, really? See, for me (and, again, everyone I know who buys "organic" products), it very much does. When we look for organic food, we're most definitely looking for small-scale, family-owned businesses that care about animal welfare (we'll leave aside human workers' welfare for now). We are most definitely *not* looking to support huge factory farming companies that punch a doorway in one of their chicken houses at the far end of the complex and sell those eggs as organic food. I don't know why that seems like a rare occurence to some folks in this thread, but in my experience it's the norm.

Jesus, Mitrovarr, there are "organic" bananas from fucking *Chiquita* in my local grocery store. Thanks, but no.

Anyway, I'll admit the survey scoring made my inner scientist cringe more than once, but still find the results extremely useful for finding the kind of eggs I actually want to buy. As alms noted, I'm tired of being fooled by vague labels the factory farm industry spends millions of dollars to water down.
posted by mediareport at 6:45 AM on October 6, 2010


Wow, really? See, for me (and, again, everyone I know who buys "organic" products), it very much does. When we look for organic food, we're most definitely looking for small-scale, family-owned businesses that care about animal welfare (we'll leave aside human workers' welfare for now). We are most definitely *not* looking to support huge factory farming companies that punch a doorway in one of their chicken houses at the far end of the complex and sell those eggs as organic food. I don't know why that seems like a rare occurence to some folks in this thread, but in my experience it's the norm.

You're confusing organic with fairtrade. "Organic" refers to the food itself, and the input products that were used to create it. An organic farm could employ slaves, feed them to the cows when they grew old and outlived their usefulness, and still be able to legitimately claim that its products were Organic.

It'd be awful, immoral, and illegal. But it wouldn't necessarily be inorganic.

This is a scorecard of how well various organic farms live up to the Cornucopia Institute's pre-chosen set of ideals, not how Organic they happen to be. Stop conflating terms -- if they want to rank farms based upon how "free-range" their chickens are, or how ethical their business practices are, they're free to do so. However, lumping these things together into an "Organic Egg Scorecard" is dishonest.

All three of these things are legitimate goals, which is why it pains me that the Cornucopia Institute are discrediting their own cause. However, for the sake of integrity, they cannot simply decide which criteria constitute Good vs. Evil, and rank it all under the header of "Organic Eggs."

They also put a bunch of organizations on their list that aren't even farms, and assigned them a failing grade when the non-farms failed to respond to a farming survey. That's borderline libel.
posted by schmod at 6:57 AM on October 6, 2010


This is exactly why many small farmers with organic practices came out in opposition of the federal organic standard. To them, it takes a philosophically wrong approach, concerning itself with what is and isn't allowable as additives, and leaving giant loopholes as to what things like "access to the outdoors" means. Farmers who have truly embraced the organic ethos consider not a do and don't do list, but an ethos that begins with managing the land for optiumum soil and water health, and taking it up from there, building a healthy and efficient ecosystem that depends on as few inputs as possible, and certainly no synthetic inputs. But "industrial organic" does not guarantee that that philosophy is in place, and in many ways just ends up allowing industrial farms, by making a few small changes such as the type of food they purchased or the "punching of a door" into a factory henhouse, to gain the marketing benefits and price premium of the label "organic." Meanwhile, many small-scale farmers whose practices are excellent can't afford to make the changes that would allow their farms to be certified as organic, or would have to sacrifice some other element of holistic farming in order to qualify for the certification.

For this reason, as always, what's best is to source your food as knowledgeably as possible. Using Local Harvest or your local farmer's market, you can start to identify growers whose beliefs about food production align with yours. They generally welcome questions - if they don't, you probably don't want their food - and you can find out what decisions they make and why, and best of all, it's quite likely you can just go look at the chickens and what their lives are like.
posted by Miko at 6:58 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, what kind of insane definition of organic is this? Ownership structure has nothing to do with the generally accepted definition of organic.

Wow, really? See, for me (and, again, everyone I know who buys "organic" products), it very much does. When we look for organic food, we're most definitely looking for small-scale, family-owned businesses that care about animal welfare


Well, clear clash of cultures here because, again, no one I know carries this added baggage to the term "organic". I did see a guy railing at the local farmer's market this summer because much of the produce there wasn't organic. Somehow "local" and "organic" had become joined in his mind such that he thought they were the same concern, that one implied the other. It didn't and doesn't, and sometimes you have to choose.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:18 AM on October 6, 2010


Well, at least they all taste the same, anyway.
posted by Siberian Mist at 7:26 AM on October 6, 2010


no one I know carries this added baggage to the term "organic".

And yet, most people I know, including most organic farmers I know, do. This is what's happened because of the term's dilution as it entered federal policy. Organic farming wasn't originally focused on the question of inputs - that obsession is a byproduct of the way the law was codified, but inputs are only one element, and a relatively small one at that, of organic farming.

Wikipedia has arrived at this definition:
Organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and control pests on a farm. Organic farming excludes or strictly limits the use of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators such as hormones, livestock antibiotics, food additives, and genetically modified organisms.[1]
In literature that forms the governance of many of the earliest adopters and developers of organic farming systems, you find language that expands upon these whole-systems ideas further. For instance, see MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association):
The Organic Premise: Many people are aware that food grown according to organic principles is free from exposure to harmful herbicides and pesticides, but that is only one small aspect of organic agriculture. A larger part of organic agriculture involves the health of the soil and the ecosystem in which crops and livestock are raised. Organic farmers recognize that healthy, vibrant, and live soils and ecosystems significantly benefit crops. Natural, undisturbed soil is alive with microbiotic organisms that exist in harmony with the native plant life and the inorganic minerals that provide the soil's substrate.

...MOFGA defines organic agriculture as a locally sustainable, low-input technique for raising crops and livestock. For details on the legal definition of the word "organic," which is now regulated in the United States by the US Department of Agriculture, read the USDA National Organic Program standards and rules.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association promotes the production of safe, high quality food in a manner that does not harm the environment and that preserves or improves soil fertility, soil structure, and farm sustainability.
Because these groups are older than the federal organic legislation, and paved the way for consumer perceptions of "organic," there is a sizeable number of people who equate the word "organic" with "responsible, sustainable farming practices." But because of the way the legislation is written, there is no longer any such guarantee. Unfortunately, many people feel an inner glow when purchasing organic produce, because they assume it will possess superior qualities of nutrition, flavor, freshness, and probably humane and sustainable practice. Thanks to industrial practice that meets the letter of the organic regulation and its focus on type of input, that is no longer the case.

What this means is that the term "organic," on its own and with no further information about farming practice, is a relatively useless piece of information about the quality and sourcing of your food. Consumers need to dig deeper to find out what the specific practices are. Clouds of organic fertilizer and pesticide applied in heavy dosage to poorly cared-for land and aggressively-grown, input-heavy plants may be just as toxic to people and the earth as conventionally grown produce. Meanwhile, a small local farm that uses a small amount of conventional control within a practice that largely builds soil health, manages animals humanely, and ships only locally may be much more in line with your values. But you have to ask the questions. The label itself does not tell you much that's useful.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on October 6, 2010


There have been some significant cases of fraud at local farmers markets where unscrupulous operators have simply picked up a few crates of apples or broccoli from a local wholesaler and passed it off as raised on their farm.
posted by humanfont at 8:20 AM on October 6, 2010


There have been some significant cases of fraud at local farmers markets

There are also a wide variety of farmer's markets. At some, relaying wholesale produce (honestly) wouldn't be an issue. If you're a farmer's market consumer, it's a good idea to know what are the market's criteria for participation. Markets are run by organizations and will have some kind of operating guidelines, which you can learn about.

It's a lot. But consumers who care about food sourcing can't afford to be lazy. People spend millions (and make millions) with deceitful marketing practices, greenwashing, subtle signals - anything to put a veneer of purity on their products. As long as people are content to lazily settle for this or that label as a shortcut to actually knowing about how their food is grown or made, they will occasionally find that they have been decieved. Nothing new under the sun there. In farmer's markets, just as in grocery stories, selecting items for consumption really has to be an active process of inquiry, and purveyors are increasingly understanding that they will be rewarded for transparency, IF they are walking the walk. Marketing terms are absolutely no substitute for real information and background knowledge about our food, any more than campaign commercials are a substitute for real information about a politician. It does take work to learn about your food.

I understand that consumers are upset when they think they've been making a virtuous purpose, but then find out that their seemingly honest products are just more industrial fodder. This, in fact, is the exact reason that many farmers and growers who use holistic, green practices opposed the introduction of a USDA organic label - because it can be used to greenwash and because it makes people lazy, makes them stop asking questions. The message to take away is not "OMG don't trust those organic farmers," but "we can no longer afford to be so alienated from the production of our food that we can be fooled by one simple word on a label."
posted by Miko at 9:15 AM on October 6, 2010


Get your own chickens.

posted by dirtdirt

posted by gorgor_balabala at 10:51 AM on October 6, 2010


Boy, I wish we were zoned for livestock, that would be so awesome.

My milk gets 4 cows, my eggs get 3 eggs. I can live with that. Atlanta just isn't that agricultural inside "the perimeter". Gotta go to Macon or something.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:39 PM on October 6, 2010


Atlanta: Are you familiar with the Atlanta Local Food Initiative (their blog), Slow Food Atlanta, Georgia Organics, UGA Center for Urban Agriculture, Green-Well Atlanta and the Georgia Local Food Guide? Apologies if you are already an old hand at this, but I've found that it's much, much easier to source good local food once you are hooked in to the community organizations that network to promote and distribute it.
posted by Miko at 2:01 PM on October 6, 2010


The exact meaning of 'organic' will depend on the certification body, some are much more stringent than others, this is why all organic food has (or should have) a certification code or label indicating who certified it as organic.

Heres an example from the UK Soil Association

What is the difference between organic and free range eggs?

Standards have been set for organic and 'free range' which stipulate among other things flock sizes, stocking densities and how many hens can share a nest. Organic standards always state that hens must have access to outside areas; however they also go further than free range standards in a number of important ways.

One of the ways in which organic standards differ from 'free range' is that organic standards stipulate smaller flock sizes and lower stocking densities (the number of birds per square metre). Smaller flock sizes help to ensure healthier and less stressed birds.

Feather pecking is a particular problem on large units and wherever hens are crowded into small spaces. Birds can be seriously injured and even killed as a result. To prevent this, the majority of 'free-range' hens are beak-trimmed – a mutilation that can be painful and also prevents the hens from expressing their natural behaviour by foraging. This practice is heavily restricted by the Soil Association.

Organic farms certified by the Soil Association have to provide more pop holes (exits from the hen house) than 'free range' farms do, to ensure access to pasture is not restricted. Generally speaking, in larger flocks a smaller proportion of birds go outside.
posted by Lanark at 2:33 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Organic" refers to the food itself

Again, this is a matter of ongoing dispute, with heavy money behind the idea of limiting "organic" to the above definition.
posted by mediareport at 3:09 PM on October 6, 2010


Actually looks like those store brands got "1 egg" ratings because they refused to provide the information these Cornucopia people requested -- not because of the way their eggs are produced.

There is absolutely no incentive, if their premises are barred to us, for them to house their chickens in anything approaching humane conditions, yet there is every incentive for them to cut whatever costs they can without (visibly) harming the eggs.

If we can't see it, it's not happening. If it were, they'd be sure not to pass up the publicity. In cases of unequal power between parties, it is not wise for the weaker party to give the stronger the benefit of the doubt.
posted by JHarris at 5:19 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Price Chopper Naturals
by Price Chopper


This gets a 1. There's no location listed. Unfortunately, there are 2 completely unrelated grocery store chains called Price Chopper.

They're apparently referring to the Price Chopper chain in the Northeast (including many locations in New York's Albany/Schenectady/Troy region, where I live) -- not the completely unrelated chain in Kansas and Missouri.
posted by John Cohen at 6:59 PM on October 6, 2010


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