Friday, October 1, 2010

"free range", chickens and regulations. Public comment period

The Seattle Times has a story today about the debate in the egg industry about what exactly "free range" means, and what "organic" means.  

Several things stood out in the story -- first, the cornucopia institute, who I've never heard of before, came up with rankings of egg producers and a report about various practices.  Check this excecutive summary for pictures of what some larger egg producers (and the industry) consider "outdoor access".  I think that this sort of reporting -- showing people what the conditions their food is raised in -- is very valuable.  Lets people make informed choices about their food.  I'd have to say that roofed, enclosed outdoor porches don't quality as "outdoor access" in my book, but the regulators have agreed that it is.  That's the sort of regulation creep that makes "organic" or "free range" useless as labels for consumers. 

What I think is less valuable is the cornucopia institutes rankings.  One of the top-ranked egg producers in washington state claims "3800 square feet per bird" space.  Which I believe means that their birds are kept in a 3800 square foot pen.  And that same producer says, and I quote, "...We do not kill any chicken for meat so as they age we end up as a nursing home for retired chickens.".

I don't think it's fair to compare farms that are producing 10,000 eggs a day with farms that are producing 30.  And this whole business of "we don't kill our birds" is odd.  By buying hens you've already killed all the roosters.  Why stop there?  You'll find their website here.   If I were only keeping 3 birds, I could lavish time and attention to them and get a perfect rating -- but I couldn't make a living off it.  Apples to apples, i say. 

The Seattle Times story has a link to make public comments about the practices to the board, you'll find it at the bottom of the story.  Take a couple of minutes and post your opinion. 

You'll find the Seattle Times story here.

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