Food manufacturers work tirelessly to deceive and confuse you so that you believe that the products you are consuming are healthy, high-quality, and have a stamp of approval from regulating agencies like the FDA and USDA. Therefore, the Good Food Fighter has to work tirelessly to uncover their tricks and techniques for getting you, the unsuspecting consumer, to eat their substandard, often toxic food.
Most slogans and adjectives used by these food manufacturers are not regulated by anyone, and so great liberties are taken to conjure up images of happy chickens frolicking in bucolic landscapes and their pure and perfect eggs. So I bring you the inconvenient truth:
Pressure from animal rights advocates has driven huge companies like Walmart and McDonalds to use “cage-free” eggs produced by hens not living in the cramped quarters known as battery cages. While it’s some improvement, the cage-free chickens live in conditions that are not cruelty-free. An animal-rights group making an undercover visit to a Pleasant Valley Farms in California found hens crowded so tightly they were covered in feces and perched on one another. The ammonia-filled air was excruciating to breathe. (Large amounts of ammonia accumulate in confinement poultry operations and is known to make animals distraught). Hens, unable to reach food and stressed from the unnatural conditions, fought and pecked at each other. In a video they took, one bird had a piece of flesh hanging off its beak.
Costco patronizes this farm. They have a reputation as a corporation with a conscience, and for treating employees and customers fairly. A petition has been started in the hopes that public pressure will result in them treating animals fairly, as well.
The egg industry has warned that hens living in what is called aviary systems (or cage free) have increased mortality rates and disease. Ironically, research has shown increased aggression, damage to birds’ sternums, and cannibalism in cage-free systems.
This moniker is essentially a con and is used purely for marketing. Chickens won’t walk out of their line of sight; they feed on what they can see around them. They won’t even walk around a transparent fence for water. So commercial poultry farmers put little doors at the ends of their huge chicken barns, doors that open onto a bare dirt lot. That allows them to call their product “free-range,” whether the chickens ever go outside or not.
Although there are currently no regulations, this term is currently used by “sustainable farmers” to indicate that chickens are raised outdoors on a pasture and are roaming on live grasses. Typically the birds are in low, wide, bottomless cages called “chicken tractors” that are moved to a new spot of fresh pasture once or more often each day. Since chickens do need some grain, the tractors contain grain feeders as well as watering devices. This is what you want to buy if you are shopping for eggs.
Is the issue animal cruelty, or health?
Both. Animals that subsist on green plants have high levels of Omega 3—otherwise known as good fats— and these are passed on to you. Grain-fed animals—which basically means all but lamb—are high in Omega 6. Omega-3s play a vital role in every cell and system in your body. Our bodies need roughly equal ratios of Omegas-3 and 6 to function properly. However, people living in industrialized western countries eat up to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, resulting in a relative deficiency of omega-3 fats and an excess of omega-6. This extreme imbalance causes allergic and inflammatory disorders and makes the body more prone to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. People with a diet rich in omega-3s are less likely to suffer from depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer’s disease. Read more about the benefits of eating grass-fed products and the detriments of feedlot animals here.
Brown, white, jumbo, organic, free-range, vegetarian-fed, humane, farm-fresh: My grocery store literally has 15 types of eggs. The cheapest dozen cost $3.56 and the most expensive are $9.99. Some cartons look like advertisements for down-on-the-farm hoedowns, a fantasy of cheery chickens and farm folk in a quilting bee or at a barn-raising. There’s Meadow Creek Farm, Happy Egg Co., Scenic Vista Farm: Would I rather my eggs come from a meadow or a scenic vista? Do happy chickens with a view lay better eggs?
How do the eggs you’ve been buying measure up? Check out the comprehensive chart compiled by the Cornucopia Institute, which does research and investigates agricultural food issues and delivers information to farmers, consumers, and the media. They support economic justice and authentic food.
So, yes. Dancing chickens—otherwise known as pastured—are the happiest. They like the same things you do—fresh air, sunshine, green grass, and worms. You like worms, right?
To do your small part to change the world, take a moment to phone just one restaurant near you and inquire whether their eggs are pastured. Tell them that’s how you like your eggs.
Trust me: the biggest changes happen as a result of public pressure. Ask every time you go out to eat. Tell the waiter why you care. They will pass your concerns on to management. Vote with your voice and your pocket book.