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As you may know, there has been a lot of talk in the news lately about McDonalds and the eggs used in their Egg McMuffins. This was brought to my attention last week by a friend who sent me a 20/20 clip he had seen. If you tend to be squeamish I’d suggest passing on watching it and sticking to the news articles… At least for me, the video was a bit more than I was prepared to handle, and yet…. I feel strongly that these types of practices (which go on all across the country, with all types of animals) need to be brought to public attention. Perhaps people wouldn’t care once they knew about the conditions of the animals, or the way these conditions affect the food they will eventually eat, but if anyone truly believed that I don’t think it would be shrouded in so much mystery.

Sparboe is the egg producer in question, and they are the number 5 producer in our country. From the information I have found, about 180 producers make up 95% of all layers. And on average, 246 eggs are produced each year per person in the United States, of those, only 3.7% are cage free, and 1.9% are listed as other.

There are so many labels stamped on our food these days, and the prices we pay correspond to them. ‘Natural’ for instance is a huge one, and probably means the least of them all. There are no standards for calling something natural in regards to what the animals eats or how it is raised. ‘Natural’ typically refers to how the meat has been processed, and the idea is that it is minimal compared to regular practices. ‘Cage Free’ is a big one for eggs, and there is a lot of debate about whether or not cage free is really any better than eggs which don’t carry the label. When a producer is cramming hundreds of thousands of birds into one area, they are all having their beaks rubbed down anyway, and without cages there may be more injury due to the overcrowding. A certified humane label will take the regulation of conditions a step further, saying that slatted or wired floors are prohibited and that dust bathing should be allowed, but big farming is big farming. ‘Vegetarian Fed’ indicates that the animal has not been fed anything other than grains and grasses, and should also include that they have not been given an additives or supplements at the very least this one should ensure that chickens are not eating ground-up chickens, which does happen.

The citations that Sparboe incurred included rats, maggots, and dead chickens in the same area as the laying chickens. This is not anything to be confused with the happy images of hens in their red roost we read about in story books or watch in movies as children. Factory farms like Sparboe span all across the country, and the conditions extend to other livestock as well. These aren’t farms at all, they are in fact just factories- except they aren’t turning out cogs or cars, they are raising ANIMALS. Perhaps they have just forgotten.

As I have been reading up on Sparboe, and the egg industry in general, I have been amazed to open the big livestock producers websites. Sparboe for example, flaunts one beautiful white chicken on their homepage- seemingly this washes away the guilt of the unhealthy food they are producing. Perdue, a producer whose chicken lines most grocery store refrigerators, has their website set up to include recipes, products and tips for the consumer. Nowhere does it even mention a farm, or the animals they raise everyday- the site might as well be for a car company. These websites, when compared to that of any local farm look even more ridiculous.  I’ve been chatting with a farm recently in regards to a meat CSA order, so I will use their website as a contrast. Chestnut Farms has included photos of their own family on their site, and has listed information about how all of their animals are cared for, where they are cared for and by whom they are cared for. Additionally, I could drive out to see them if I wanted to- and I am not going to be met with barbed wire fences and warning signs!

After having read so much about these big producers that my stomach hurts, I am firmly convinced that big production is simply not the answer to feeding our country. Small farmers can produce enough to serve their community, and prior to these industry farmers taking over, that was the case everywhere. When a farmer raises food for his or her community the animals are cared for, the conditions are more sanitary, and there is far less risk for health concerns. Additionally small farms don’t have overcrowding and therefore don’t need to be concerned with pre-medicating animals for fear of infection. So what now? Take a little extra time this week to see where you can locate real, farm raised eggs and meat…. it not only tastes better, but you’ll be making a big difference and you can feel good about what’s for dinner!