Milwaukee-based Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative and the largest name-brand supplier of organic eggs in the United States, may be misleading consumers. The Petaluma Egg Farm in Petaluma, CA is the largest producer for Organic Valley on the West Coast, and has recently come under attack for not providing adequate living conditions for their organic hens.
USDA regulations stipulate that organically raised hens be provided 5-square feet of pasture, access to outdoors and contact with direct sunlight (promote hen-health). Because the Petaluma farm is so large, they have chosen to address the "outdoors" standard by creating sun porches -- screened areas with a roof and floor, thus preventing the birds from acting on natural instincts such as foraging and scratching. While Organic Valley maintains that the Petaluma Farm has maintained independent organic certification since it joined the co-op in 2009, it is clear that the hens' living conditions do not match the spirit or intent of the regulations.
As a follow-up, an expert-citizen panel which advises the USDA on organic standards will meet at the end of this month to discuss the stipulations, including making it more explicit that screened porches will no longer meet the outdoor-access requirements.
As Karen Herzog reports, "author Michael Pollan referred to Petaluma Eggs in his best-seller, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," as an example of "supermarket pastoral" — industrial-scale agribusiness masquerading as part of the good food movement." What do you think?
Photo by John Loo