Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This? by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times tells the horrifying story of Kreider Farms, which was recently exposed by a Humane Society undercover investigation. The article describes the dirty, crowded, rodent and fly infested barns where hens are raised and argues that even chickens, who don’t display much personality, should be exempt from cruelty.
I argue that chickens have plenty of personality. I submit the following as evidence:
Guest chickens quickly sized up the threat level presented by Dog, and acted sassy toward him to the point of stealing treats from under his nose.
Guest chickens learned that the humans came through this door and rushed it whenever it opened. They would have come into the house if allowed.
Chickens are hilarious. I’m not sure how anyone who has spent time watching chickens putter around a yard could think they don’t have personalities, or could eat a factory farmed egg or chicken meat product.
Here’s what I’m reading while working on my next real posts:
The latest Edible Blue Ridge, featuring an article about our favorite fancy local-food restaurant, Brookville. Also exciting: a blurb about a new book called Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement Is Changing the Way We Eat, by UVA professor Tanya Denckla Cobb.
We’re Eating Less Meat. Why?, a NYT blog post by Mark Bittman, which examines the reasons that Americans are eating less meat, despite federal subsidies, lax environmental regulations, and lack of support for smaller farms in competition with the giant factory farms, all of which aid the meat industry.
Five Easy Ways to Eat Local: Tips on finding and incorporating into your diet more local foods, and a nice description of the health and flavor advantages of local, seasonal food.
The Fall 2011 issue of ASPCA Action describes a July agreement between United Egg Producers (UEP), representing the owners of 80% of the US laying hen population, and animal welfare groups, in which the UEP pledged to support (yet-to-be introduced) legislation phasing-out of battery cages for hens.
A wire cage, measuring no more than 16 inches wide, in which four or five hens are housed. These cages are lined up in rows and stacked several levels high on factory farms. This system of production has been outlawed by countries in the European Union.
Hens in these cages are so cramped that they can’t extend their wings, and the discomfort can lead them to attempt stress relief by fighting. Factory farmers often use debeaking to curb the damage done by these miserable birds. Again, from the ASPCA glossary:
Debeaking [is] a process that involves cutting through bone, cartilage and soft tissue with a blade to remove the top half and the bottom third of a chicken’s, turkey’s or duck’s beak. This measure is taken to reduce the excessive feather pecking and cannibalism seen among stressed, overcrowded birds in factory farms.
Let’s hope the ASPCA and other farm animal welfare groups can push Congress to enact legislation quickly to improve conditions for laying hens and other factory farm animals.
Why do we, as consumers, care about this? Because the overuse of antibiotics in our food supply leads to drug-resistant bacteria. We’re seeing that with the rise in MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, infections, which are not treatable by most antibiotics.
Antibiotics are regularly fed to healthy factory farmed animals to ward off any diseases that are likely to strike when large numbers of animals are confined together in a small, unsanitary space. This irresponsible use of antibiotics means that bacteria have more opportunity to evolve defense mechanisms against the antibiotics, making the drugs ineffective, and creating super bugs like MRSA.
In 1998, the Institute of Medicine estimated that antibiotic resistance generated at least $4 billion to $5 billion per year in extra costs to the U.S. health care system, more recently estimated at $16.6 billion to $26 billion per year
Up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to healthy food animals
More than 25 million pounds of antibiotics a year are used as a non-therapeutic treatment to artificially speed up the growth of food animals and to compensate for the effects of unsanitary conditions on the farm
The World Health Organization has recommended that the FDA and USDA regulate the administering of antibiotics to food animals, and end this dangerous practice. But since they won’t, we consumers need to be responsible and only purchase animal products from animals that were not fed antibiotics. Check labels to be sure the animals’ diet was drug-free, or look for the Organic designation, which means no antibiotics, hormones, or steroids were fed to the animals. Even better, purchase your animal products from small, local farms, where you can visit and confirm that the animals are pasture-raised and happy. The future of humanity may depend on it!
The ninety-nine-cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost–to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves…
…for if quality matters so much more than quantity, then the price of a food may bear little relation to the value of the nutrients in it. If units of omega-3s and beta-carotene and vitamin E are what an egg shopper is really after, then Joel’s $2.20 a dozen pastured eggs actually represent a much better deal than the $0.79 a dozen industrial eggs at the supermarket.
from p. 200-201, Grass: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture; and p.269, The Meal: Grass Fed.
When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting: for local not organic or not.
You can vote to change this system. Three times a day.
Buy from companies that treat workers, animals, and the environment with respect.
When you go to the supermarket, choose foods that are in season. Buy foods that are organic. Know what’s in your food. Read labels. Know what you buy.
The average meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to the supermarket. Buy foods that are grown locally. Shop at farmers’ markets. Plant a garden (even a small one).
Everyone has a right to healthy food. Make sure your farmers’ market takes food stamps. Ask your school board to provide healthy school lunches. The FDA and USDA are supposed to protect you and your family. Tell Congress to enforce food safety standards and re-introduce Kevin’s Law.
Mercy for Animals gives a nice (frustrating, anger-inducing) summary of the latest government handout to factory farmers, this time to support the factory chicken farming industry. It seems that an economy-driven decrease in demand for chicken products has lead to a glut in the marketplace and a decrease in prices. That combined with the rising cost of feed are causing problems for the big agribusinesses, so good ol’ Uncle Sam is stepping in to buy up the surplus. How nice!
The best way for us (above) average citizens to combat factory farming is with our dollars. Please buy from your local free-range chicken farm, where the animals are treated humanely and like animals, not products. Purchasing your meat and eggs from those farms not only bolsters your local economy and supports local, humane farming, but it also takes dollars away from factory farms.
In closing, here’s a picture of free-range broiler chickens from my friend’s farm in Germany. These are happy chickens!
To visit a modern Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is to enter a world that for all its technological sophistication is still designed on seventeenth-century Cartesian principles: Animals are treated as machines–“production units”–incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this anymore, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert one’s eyes on the part of everyone else.
What? How can a diet that encourages eating large quantities of meat be considered a friend to the anti-factory farming movement?
The Paleo Diet preaches the consumption of pasture raised, humanely treated meat and eggs. The emphasis is on the fact that these foods are more wholesome, and therefore better for humans than factory farmed meats and eggs, but the side effect of supporting humane farms is a welcome one.
Animals raised on pasture and slaughtered humanely produce healthier food: more vitamins, a better fat profile and fatty acid ratios, no unnecessary antibiotics, and less stress hormones.
In short: eat only happy, healthy animals (or products from those animals) and you will be a happy, healthy human! Remember: you are what what you eat eats!
On Earth Day, let’s pause to consider why sustainable farming is good for our planet. (There are other benefits of sustainable agriculture that are not environmental, but today, let’s focus on Earth!)
Soil: Factory farms abuse the land, overusing it without resting the soil, and douse it with chemicals in an attempt to replenish the soil’s nutrients. Sustainable farms carefully manage soils to increase nutrients and prevent erosion, through crop rotation and diversification, the use of manure, mulch, and other natural enhancers and protectors, and the planting of cover crops. Crop rotation and diversification naturally enrich the soil and keep crops healthier, without the use of chemical fertilizer. Manure and mulch increase soil moisture and biomass, and protect the soil. Cover crops increase the nitrogen in the soil, which is accomplished in conventional farming through the application of chemicals; cover crops also reduce erosion by creating a buffer between soil and rainfall, and their root systems anchor the soil in place.
Water: Large commercial farms contaminate water supplies with nitrogen, salt, and other fertilizer chemicals; pesticides; and animal waste. They also consume large quantities of water. Sustainable farms may use cover crops to increase the nitrogen content of the soil, thereby eliminating the need for nitrogen enhancements via water-contaminating chemicals. Cover crops can also be used for pest control, replacing chemical pesticides. “Trap crops” attract pests away from cash crops, and “habitat augmentation” uses cover crops that attract pests’ natural predators. Sustainable farms recycle animal waste back into the land as a fertilizer, rather than allowing it to pollute waterways. The rate of water consumption is less on sustainable farms than on conventional farms, as sustainable farming creates moister soil that is better equipped to retain water.
Air: Large farms contribute to declining air quality by emitting toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the air, spraying pesticides, and trucking shipments long distances. Decomposing manure tanks or lagoons emit gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane into the atmosphere. Methane, which is a greenhouse gas, is also released from cows as they digest corn-based diets, which their systems aren’t built to digest. Sustainable farming practices rely on alternative pest-control techniques that don’t spray chemicals into the air. Farms that sell their produce locally require less fossil-fuel-based energy to transport their wares than farms that ship food to far-off places. And sustainable farms that feed animals diets based on foods they would eat in nature relieve the chronic indigestion that leads to massive amounts of methane production.
Wildlife: The wildlife that lives in soil may not get as much publicity, but it’s just as important. Healthy soil that is sustainably farmed hosts countless critters such as earthworms, arthropods, and bacteria. Sustainable farming is safer for fish, which are killed when runoff from factory farms pollutes streams. Wildlife drinking from waterways polluted by animal waste or fertilizer runoff from factory farms can be harmed by chemicals or pathogens. Fewer insects in the soil means less food for birds. The creation of huge factory farms displaces animal populations and destroys habitats, while sustainable farms with diversified plantings create an environment that encourages the growth of native plant, insect, and animal populations.
Energy conservation: Sustainable farms are less dependent on non-renewable energy sources, in particular petroleum, than large-scale agricultural businesses. They use fewer chemicals, which require a tremendous amount of fossil fuel-produced energy to manufacture. Sustainable farms generally do not produce processed foods, which take more energy to produce than whole foods. Farms that raise pasture-fed animals conserve energy by letting the animals do the work of spreading manure and feeding themselves.
So celebrate Earth Day by eating some locally grown produce and pasture-raised meat! If you’re lucky, like we are here at Haute Pasture, you can raise a glass of local wine with your meal!