Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Eggs: Our Right to Clean, Safe, Fair Food

Consumers have a right to know where our food comes from, how it is raised and processed. Cattle, pigs, chicken or something as seemingly innocuous as eggs, whistle-blowers or hidden cameras are often the only way to identify which companies talk the talk, but fail to walk the walk. Deceptive practices and black-box operations put our food supply and our family's health at risk. So why do state legislators want to make undercover investigations of factory farms a crime?

The answer is simple - they don't want consumers to know the conditions our food animals suffer because we will think twice before buying this product.

Consider the incredible edible egg.

Factory-farmed Eggs

Not all it's cracked up to be

Cal-Maine Foods is one of the largest egg producing companies in America and coincidentally prominent in the recall of nearly 300 million eggs in 2010. Eggs from Cal-Maine Foods are sold at H.E.B., Randalls and Fiesta supermarkes throughout Austin and Texas under various brand names as well as the stores' private-label stock.

[caption id="attachment_1035" align="aligncenter" width="270" caption="Battery cages confine egg-laying hens"]Hens in battery cages.[/caption]


For 28 days concluding in early November [2010], a Humane Society of the United States investigator was employed under cover at Cal- Maine's Waelder, Texas facility," said Paul Shapiro, who's the senior director for The Humane Society. "And what he documented was nothing short of severe animal abuse and food safety threats."

Birds laying eggs on top of rotting corpses of other hens were discovered. The Humane Society's investigation team also documented eggs covered in feces and blood as well as birds confined in cages so small, they were unable to spread their wings.

"You can have salmonella not only on the outside of the egg, but also laid inside of the egg," said Shapiro. "That's one of the reasons why last August about a thousand Americans came down violently ill that resulted in a half a billion egg recall from these factory farms."

When I complained to H-E-B about what I believe to be deceptive advertising on Cal-Maine "Farmhouse Jumbo Eggs," the Texas-based supermarket chain ducked under the protective wing of "industry standards" enforced by UEP - United Egg Producers.

No self regulation

United Egg Producers, an industry trade association developed a "certification" program for egg producers after the outcry of poor animal husbandry practices and dirty processing conditions.


Like the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," their certification logo on egg cartons promised more humane conditions for egg-laying hens. In a small percentage of farms, hens were released from punishingly small battery cages to a "cage-free" environment.

But did the industry that promised to regulate itself deliver?

A short film produced in a Mercy for Animals investigation reveals starving and injured hens raised under an industry label promising humane treatment. See the truth behind the logo.

This is the same UEP implicated in a price-fixing scheme with the major egg producers including Cal-Maine that forced the price of eggs up 40% last year.

Litigation is pending.


Our right to know

Whether or not we care about the contentment of egg-laying hens or food animals that are raised for slaughter, the fact remains that poor husbandry practices and unsanitary processing conditions affect the quality of the food we put on a plate for our children, other loved ones and ourselves.

Our factory-farmed food kills.

Rather than clean up these conditions, CAFO operators are trying to sneak through a law that would ban taking pictures of their operations.

So-called "ag gag" bills have been proposed in various states nationwide. Many of them have been squelched by strong opposition. Others are still under consideration.

I understand that many people will continue to buy and eat supermarket food because it is convenient and affordable. I respect this choice.

I ask you to respect my choice as well and to protect the only means which seems to keep factory-farm operators half-way honest.
Please sign the Slow Food USA petition to withdraw the legislation that would make taking pictures or video of farms or food production facilities illegal. Consumers have a right to know and a right to see how their food is produced. Farms that produce good, clean and fair food have nothing to hide.

And while you're at it,  give H-E-B a piece of your mind too. As it stands, only Whole Foods and Wal-Mart carry genuinely cage-free eggs.
The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard rates companies that market name-brand and private-label eggs based on 22 different criteria, including legal and legitimate outdoor access and adherence to organic principles such as farm diversity and nutrient cycling. It is based on a years research into the organic egg industry.

We have a right to know what goes on in these operations. Then we can assure clean, safe, fair food with our pocketbooks.
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