Another reason to eat local food

E coli outbreak: German officials identify beansprouts as likely source

From the article:

Scientists suspect the source of the contamination may have been poor hygiene either at a farm, in transit, or in a shop or food outlet.

This encouragement to eat locally-sourced food isn’t a suggestion to avoid German beansprouts specifically, but rather a suggestion that cutting down on the number of middlemen involved in the journey of your food from farm to plate decreases the likelihood of contamination somewhere along the way.

Egg label primer

We at Haute Pasture do not often buy commercially-produced eggs, so while recently browsing the egg section of our local grocery, we were intrigued by a “certified humanely raised” label on an egg carton. Does that actually mean anything? We didn’t know, and maybe some of you don’t, so here is our egg label primer.

(First we went to the source, the USDA website. It is impossible to navigate. So the following information is compiled from various sites, listed below. These labels are only lightly regulated, mostly by 3rd parties, and are complied with on a voluntary basis.)

Cheat Sheet

Which labels explicitly prohibit beak cutting?

  • Animal Welfare Approved

Which labels explicitly prohibit forced molting? (Forced molting is the starving of hens to trigger an increase in egg production)

  • American Humane Certified
  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • Certified Humane
  • Food Alliance Certified
  • United Egg Producers Certified

Which labels require hens to have outdoor access? (Note that the amount and quality of outdoor access required is generally undefined, except for as noted below.)

  • Animal Welfare Approved (Continuous outdoor perching is required)
  • Certified Naturally Grown
  • Certified Organic
  • Free Range/Free Roaming
  • Pasture-Raised

Which labels require farms to allow hens to act like chickens (i.e., perch, nest, and dust bathe)?

  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • Certified Humane
  • Certified Naturally Grown
  • Food Alliance Certified (but outdoor access can be substituted with natural daylight)
  • Pasture-Raised

Which labels sound humane but allow for the cramming of hens into tiny spaces?

  • American Humane Certified
  • Natural (this label has no requirements for the welfare of the hens)
  • Omega-3 Enriched (this label has no requirements for the welfare of the hens)
  • United Egg Producers Certified
  • Vegetarian-Fed (this label has no requirements for the welfare of the hens)

The Labels

Animal Welfare Approved: Unfortunately, no producers currently adhere to these, the toughest restrictions regarding the welfare of the hens. The hens live naturally: they are able to nest, perch, dust bathe, and molt. Their living quarters must follow requirements regarding population density and nesting boxes. Beak cutting and forced molting are prohibited.

Pasture-Raised: The hens are raised outdoors, on grass, in movable structures. They are fed an organic diet, and are able to forage for the critters which are natural sources of food for chickens.

American Grassfed: This applies less to poultry than to ruminants whose natural diet is grass. American Grassfed certified meat generally means the animal was raised on a diet consisting of only grass and its mother’s milk. The rules are a bit different for poultry, as a grass-only diet isn’t natural for birds, so grass only needs to be a portion of what they eat. Specific standards are not available online at this time.

Certified Naturally Grown: Animals must be primarily pasture-raised, eating pesticide- and medicine-free food. They put an emphasis on locally-sourced food, so don’t require that feed be certified organic.

Certified Humane: The standards dictate that the hens get free access to vegetarian food and fresh water, and they may only be fed antibiotics if medically required. Forced molting is prohibited. Rules dictate space, air quality, and lighting requirements. The hens may stretch their wings and dust bathe. Outdoor access is not required.

Certified Organic: The hens are cage-free indoors, with required access to the outdoors. The amount and quality of that outdoor access is undefined, however. Beak cutting and forced molting are allowed. The hens’ diet must be organic and vegetarian, and pesticide- and antibiotic-free.

Food Alliance Certified: Hens are cage-free and must be able to nest, perch, and dust bathe, and have outdoor access OR natural daylight. Forced molting is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Rules govern space per hen, perching, and nesting boxes.

Free-Range/Free-Roaming: There is no standard definition of free-range in the egg industry. The hens are generally cage-free and have some outdoor access; however, the doors may be small and the window of opportunity to go outside may be so short that the hens never actually get outdoors. There are no dietary restrictions for free-range egg-producing hens. Beak cutting and forced molting are permitted.

Cage-Free: This simply means the hens are not kept in cages, nothing more. While the hens may move around and stretch their wings, beak cutting and forced molting are permitted.

American Humane Certified: Descriptions of rules are vague for this label, and their standards documents are unreadable. They certify caged environments, cage-free, and free-range. Some sources claim that this certification allows hens to be stuffed in cages, where they can’t spread their wings. However, the Massachusetts SPCA endorses the certification, saying the hens must be cage-free. Forced molting is prohibited, but debeaking is allowed.

United Egg Producers Certified: This standard allows hens to be stuffed into a tiny space in a cage, where they cannot spread their wings, perch, or nest. Forced molting is prohibited, but debeaking is allowed. From the Humane Society’s website:

The United Egg Producers is a trade group that represents egg factory farms and promotes the confinement of hens in cages. Although the UEP certifies cage-free facilities, it mostly certifies factory farms that cage birds—an abuse that some top egg-producing states have made illegal and are phasing out, and that consumers and numerous major companies oppose.

Fertile: The hens lived with roosters, which means they were probably cage-free. There are otherwise no restrictions for this label.

Vegetarian-Fed: This label only relates to the diet of the hens. The hens are fed a diet that contains no animal byproducts, except for eggs.

Omega-3 Enriched: This label only relates to the diet of the hens. These hens are fed a supplement, such as flax seed, to increase their Omega-3 intake.

Sources: The Humane Society,, Humane Food Labels, Cage Free Eggs, American Humane Certified article in Natural News, MSPCA, American Grassfed, Certified Naturally Grown,, Eat Wild

Iowa legislators support animal abuse and food poisoning

Iowa may be on the verge of passing a bill to make illegal the production, distribution, and possession of video or picture footage taken inside a factory farm without the owner’s permission.

Because factory farms are under-regulated and closed to the outside world, undercover investigators from animal rights groups sometimes take a job at a farm, only to document any health or animal treatment violations to release to the authorities and the public.

That sort of publicity is obviously not in the company’s best interests, but it IS in the public’s best interests: unsanitary conditions in factory farms can lead to outbreaks of food poisoning; and it’s in the animals’ best interests to have their living conditions improved. Happier animals also produce better food, but that’s a different argument.

Big agriculture is a huge industry in the Midwest, so it makes sense that legislators are pressured by lobbyists and constituents to support factory farming. According to Food & Water Watch, Iowa ranks first in the country in number of factory-farmed layer hens (averaging 1.3 million hens per farm–more than double the national average), first in factory-farmed hogs, and fourth in large cattle feedlots. Florida and Minnesota are considering similar bills. These bills are detrimental to food safety, and therefore public health, and should not be passed.

This quote from a New York Times article sums it up nicely:

“If they have nothing to hide and they are operating ethically, they should have no fear,” [Senator Matthew W. McCoy, Democrat of Des Moines] said.

CSPI’s Food Day: Celebration of sustainable and humane food practices, or something more sinister?

The Haute Pasture office subscribes to the Nutrition Action newsletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and we were pleased to see that they are planning a Food Day celebration for October 24, 2011. The aim it to celebrate nutritious, responsibly-sourced food, and further the group’s goals of helping citizens make healthier choices, and helping policymakers improve rules regarding food safety and quality. CSPI strives to do the following, as described on the CSPI site:

  • To provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers and to conduct research on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues related to science and technology;
  • To represent the citizen’s interests before regulatory, judicial and legislative bodies on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues; and
  • To ensure that science and technology are used for the public good and to encourage scientists to engage in public-interest activities.

After reading the mention of Food Day in Nutrition Action, we went online to see if we could find more information about it. CSPI’s Facebook page has a similar brief description of Food Day, as does the site of the company developing the Food Day logo. Most interesting to us, however, was a blog post titled “CSPI Shills for World Food Day–A Monsanto Operation.” This post seems flawed in that it links the CSPI Food Day to an unrelated World Food Day, but the argument was intriguing enough that we continued researching.

As long-time subscribers to Nutrition Action, we were surprised to read about an alleged link between CSPI and Monsanto. It turns out many bloggers have written about CSPI being backed by major food corporations and basically being a PR group for the FDA. The posts and comments we read were from the angle of anti-big-government rather than anti-agrigiants. Listed as evidence of the evil of CSPI were: the support of the executive director of CSPI, Michael Jacobson, for the S.510 Food Safety Bill; Jacobson’s description of controversial Food Safety Czar Michael Taylor as “… extremely knowledgeable and public-health oriented”; Jacobson’s support of genetically-m0dified crops; and CSPI’s work with Walmart to remove HFCS and decrease sodium in their products.

Politics aside, we can see how the stance of CSPI regarding the above items could conflict with the best interests of small farms. The food safety changes needed to protect consumers should be made at the level of the large agricultural corporation; a small local farm which can be policed by its own customers should be allowed to sell raw milk without the government getting in the way. But where should the line be drawn between protecting consumers from the carelessness of agrigiants, and protecting family farms from the long arm of the law?

Joel Salatin on community food systems

Haute Pasture was fortunate recently to hear Joel Salatin speak to a small group of supporters of the local-food movement. Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farms, an innovative farm specializing in organic, pasture-based meats and eggs. You may recognize the name Polyface, as it was a featured farm in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin is also a gifted speaker, and travels the country lecturing on topics ranging from technical cattle farming how-tos, to instruction for the lay person on how to be a farm-friendly consumer. On this night, he spoke to us about the importance of sourcing your food locally, and how commercial food production and uneducated consumers are heading down a dark road.

Most people in our society don’t know or care where their food comes from: similar to other modern comforts we take for granted, such as energy, water, and waste disposal, we don’t think about its origin or impact on the environment, we just use it. People don’t cook anymore; they just open a box and put it in the microwave. Numbers are skyrocketing of diseases stemming from diet: diabetes, especially childhood diabetes, heart disease, obesity.

As Salatin pointed out, eating is humans’ most intimate activity. Things you consume are integrated into your body, and directly affect your personal chemistry. How have people become so casual about the terrible things they’re introducing into their internal systems? Modern attitudes about eating reflect modern attitudes about many things: we want it bigger, we want it cheaper, and we want it now! It’s inconvenient to worry about the quality, origin, and nutritious value of your food, right? Advertising is all over the place to tell consumers it’s okay to buy the processed junk found in the grocery store or fast food restaurant. Sadly, the government sends the same message. The USDA (Salatin calls it the US-Duh) encourages farms to grow produce and animals faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper. They give the impression that they’re looking out for consumers: they allow flu shots in schools, but they also allow soda machines in those same schools. By endorsing factory farms, they teach us that life is just a mechanical thing to be manipulated or dominated. The FDA (or as Salatin calls it–can you guess?–the F-Duh) is an accomplice. They are the food police that dictate that raw milk isn’t safe, but Twinkies and Coke are. President Obama’s Food Czar is a Monsanto man, and now (coincidentally?) we have a Food Modernization Act which does have positive provisions, but places new costly, onerous regulations on mid-sized farmers, when virtually zero outbreaks of tainted food stem from small- and mid-sized farms. The act emphasizes the value of food produced using sound science–why not emphasize nature instead?

If we all turned to community food systems, we could solve many of Americans’ health problems, while benefiting the communities themselves, along with livestock and the environment. We need to educate consumers on the interconnectedness of soil, food, and health. Salatin called it “field to fork” eating. Soil needs to be nurtured, as it hosts an unseen world of  insects, arthropods, and bacteria. Animals who are raised in settings that mimic their natural habitats are the most happy, and impart the chemical advantages of that happiness to us through their meat, eggs, and milk. Communities gain from the revenue generated from production, processing, and retail sales of local food, and consumers can feel secure that they’re getting fresher, safer, more humanely-treated food because local food systems are more transparent than remote agricultural corporations. If a consumer can walk into a local farm, cannery, butchery, or abattoir, those businesses are forced to be transparent in their processes and accountable to customers.

Salatin gave several examples of ways food can be integrated into communities. Italy has gardens and Mexico tethers milk cows along highways, areas which America keeps mowed, wasting petroleum and biomass. A Belgian project gave chickens to families, and not only did the chickens provide the households with fresh eggs, but they helped with yard bug populations, and ate kitchen waste. Prisoners could be turned into farmers: America has twice the number of prisoners as farmers, so why not plant apple and pear trees along highways and let prisoners tend them?

People who are stuck in the rut of making unhealthy, irresponsible food choices may not want to hear Salatin’s message, but it’s an important one, and we, as citizens of Earth, are lucky that he has such a busy speaking schedule. If you’re reading this, then it’s not likely that you’re stuck in that rut, so congratulations, and please continue to support local agriculture!

Pret A Manger

Haute Pasture recently took a field trip to London. When we’re in London, our favorite place to get lunch is Pret A Manger. Pret strives to keep their food preservative- and additive-free, keeping it fresh and wholesome. And the food is delicious and cheap!

They don’t throw around the term “natural.” The most important things they do, according to Haute Pasture, are:

  • We serve organic milk, eggs, coffee, tea, citrus juices, chocolate and popcorn, and will continue to add to the list. Organic food is grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides or other toxic junk. Organic farming protects the environment and encourages sustainable farming practices.
  • Our chicken, turkey, beef and ham are never processed more than they have to be. It’s shocking what large producers are permitted to do (you really don’t want to know). We buy directly from small cooperatives and family-run farmers like Murray’s, Earthbound Farm and Niman Ranch, who share our beliefs. They never give their animals antibiotics or hormones, feed them only a vegetarian diet free of animal by-products and care about them and the environment in which they live.

(emphasis ours)

Kudos to Pret! Please patronize them!

Eat Well Guide

This is an interesting tool:

It accepts an address or zip code, and returns a list of nearby markets and restaurants that carry local food, along with lists of CSAs and farms. (One result for this little town: Chipotle.) For a responsible consumer traveling to an unfamiliar place, this tool could be a great asset. The site can also map a route and show you ethical food options along the way. Very impressive!

Whole Foods cares about farm animals

From The Statesman in Austin, TX:

Kudos to Whole Foods for making it easier for concerned shoppers to purchase from farms that value the living conditions of their resident livestock. A color-coded system rating farms on animal treatment will help consumers make informed decisions about the products they are purchasing, starting with pork, beef, and chicken, but eventually covering all meats sold at the store. The non-profit Global Animal Partnership, who collaborated with Whole Foods on the project, is in talks with other retailers about expanding the program beyond Whole Foods.

Whole Foods already has baseline standards of animal treatment that must be met by farms whose meat is carried at the store. For example, chickens may not have their beaks trimmed, and pigs must be allowed to root freely. This new initiative promises to protect many more farm animals while making it easier for consumers to choose responsibly.