Saturday, September 27, 2008

When Humanely Raised Is Not Humane

What I'm discovering about how poultry is raised in this country, and how eggs are produced, even supposed "organic" and "free-range" products, is making me ill. I fell for advertisements that claimed chickens roamed freely, were not in cages, and were humanely handled.

It is not humane to:

Slice off a bird's beak (which has a high concentration of nerve endings), with a hot blade, without anesthesia, leaving the bird at times so mutilated it cannot eat properly. This is done to, as one organic egg producer explained to me, prevent cannibalism. "When chickens are crowded together ... their innate sense of pecking order is obliterated. ... They become violent and sometimes peck each other to death." 1, 2

"Cage-Free," "Free-Range," "Organic," "Certified Humane," and other labels do not mean birds don't have their beaks mutilated, as the following examples demonstrate:
  • Trader Joe's "Cage-Free" eggs come from hens with mutilated beaks.
  • Shelton's "Free-Range" eggs come from hens with mutilated beaks.
  • The Country Hen "Organic" "Cage Free" eggs come from hens with mutilated beaks.
Speaking of The Country Hen ... a private organic labeling program, the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) "denied certification to The Country Hen because [The Country Hen] did not provide its birds with access to the outdoors." The USDA overruled NOFA (the next day!) and ordered them to issue The Country Hen an organic certificate. NOFA/MICI sued the USDA for overruling them. It went to court. A judge ruled that "accredited certifying agents have no right to appeal when USDA overturns their decisions." 3, 4

This effectively thwarts the ability of private organic labeling programs to make certifications. It's especially disconcerting that the USDA can do something like this without gathering information or holding a hearing:
"No one from USDA ever reviewed our files, talked to our certification committee, or even asked us a single question concerning the denial."
- Don Franczyk, a NOFA/MICI certification administrator
The state where I live has a USDA-accredited organic certifying agency, the Pennsylvania Certified Organic program (PCO) that specifically allows beak severing as part of its organic certification.

It is not humane to:

"Deny hens food and water to "shock" their bodies into a new egg-laying cycle," a practice called "forced molting." Great Britain banned forced molting in 1987. 1, 2

It is not humane to:

Cut off birds' toes and claws. "Bird's toes and claws often become permanently entangled in the wire on which they're forced to stand (99% of hens that lay eggs in the US are kept in cages). The producers typically handle this difficulty by simple cutting off the birds' toes and claws." 1

It is not humane to:

Dispose of non-egg-laying male chicks by "throwing them into garbage bags to suffocate, or hurling them live into a giant meat grinder, then feeding them back to chickens or other livestock." 1, 2

If you'd like to investigate the meaning of a particular label, go to the Consumer Reports site called Greener Choices, Eco-Labels Center, and type in your label. About "free range" it said:
The "free range" label doesn’t necessarily mean the animals went outdoors. ... and ... "Free range" claims on eggs are not regulated at all.
1 The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World, John Robbins, p. 191-194
2 Chickens, Eggs and the “Free-Range” Fallacy, Monica Engebretson, Satya, 2006
3 The National Agriculture Law Center, In re Massachusetts Independent Certification, Inc., OFPA Docket No. 03-0002
"Order Dismissing Petitioner's Appeal (April 27, 2004) In this decision, the Judicial Officer concluded that he did not have jurisdiction over the proceeding and dismissed petitioner’s appeal. This decision is based on the Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator’s decision to overrule the Massachusetts Independent Certification, Inc.’s (MICI) denial of organic certification to egg producer The Country Hen. MICI, a NOP/OFPA organic certifying agent, denied certification to The Country Hen because the applicant did not provide its birds with access to the outdoors, a requirement under NOP regulations. Nonetheless, the Administrator directed MICI to issue an organic certificate, prompting MICI to file an appeal with the USDA challenging the Administrator’s authority to overrule MICI and order the certifying agent to issue certification. MICI bases its right to appeal under both OFPA and the Constitution’s Due Process clause. Relevant litigation documents are located on the website of the Farmer’s Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG) at
FLAG is representing MICI in this matter, and provides hypertext links to pertinent orders, complaints, briefs, and petitions."
4 USDA Decision Jeopardizes Organic Standards In Attempt to Quell Dispute Over Organic Eggs, NOFA Massachusettes, 2006

Related posts:
Where Do You Get Your Eggs?
"Certified Humane" Allows Beak Cutting

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