Not all organic eggs are created equal, according to the Cornucopia Institute. This nonprofit watchdog group recently released a report to rank different organic label eggs and help consumers make informed choices about organic and pastured eggs. The report shows the enormous disparity in the eggs that bear the organic label.
The report, “Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture,” includes a scorecard comparing different farms and shedding light on unclear egg carton labels. The scorecard was created based on 28 criteria, including outdoor access, ownership structure of the farm, average flock size, and indoor enrichments.
The largest issue being discussed at this point in time is pasture access. Some organic labels indicate free-range chickens with hundreds of acres of pasture in which to forage for their food, while others indicate industrially-raised birds packed into indoor coops with rare sunlight hours. Last year, five large industrial farms were criticized by the Cornucopia Institute for their lack of outdoor space for "pastured" chickens, which were housed in fixed building as opposed to the ideal standard for pastured eggs, which is smaller flocks in portable henhouses rotated in fresh pasture daily.
Nick Maravell, owner of Nick’s Organic in Maryland, one of the best-rated Cornucopia farms, told the Washington Post, “It was the small family farms that created the image and demand for organic products. People still have that image in mind, but there are much larger operations now.”
The release of the report follows a long period of questioning as to whether organic standards are being maintained at USDA-certified organic egg farms, as the label relies on private certifying companies, hired by the farms themselves, which have a financial incentive to approve the farms vying for the label.
In response to the new report, the USDA defended its efforts for the enforcement of organic standards. The Washington Post noted that the future of organic eggs will include a variety of farming types, including industrial-scale farms housing hundreds of thousands of birds with no space minimum, meaning that scorecards such as the one released by the Cornucopia Institute will be vital for consumers for whom the organic label isn't enough.
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