Late last year, after nearly two years of research, the Cornucopia Institute published the report Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture. It profiled the exemplary management practices of many family-scale organic farmers engaged in egg production, while spotlighting abuses at so-called factory farms, some confining hundreds of thousands of chickens in industrial facilities and representing their eggs to consumers as "organic." Fact: According to the industry's lobbyist, United Egg Producers (UEP), 80 percent of all organic eggs are produced by just a handful of its largest members. At least one UEP member, Hillandale Farms, was implicated in the 2010 salmonella outbreak affecting conventional eggs.
"After visiting over 15 percent of the certified egg farms in the United States, and surveying all name-brand and private-label industry marketers, it's obvious that a high percentage of the eggs on the market should be labeled 'produced with organic feed' rather than bearing the USDA-certified organic logo," says Mark A. Kastel, Cornucopia's codirector and senior farm policy analyst.
The new report contains a consumer scorecard grading various brands on their egg production practices, and is published at a critical juncture for the industry. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the 15-member expert citizen advisory panel set up by Congress to advise the USDA on organic policy, has been debating new regulations for poultry that would establish housing-density standards and a clearer understanding of what outdoor access truly means. The industry's largest operators and their lobbyists oppose the move. "We are against any requirement for hens to have access to the soil," says Kurt Kreher of Kreher's Sunrise Farms in Clarence, New York.
Cornucopia, meanwhile, has helped organize egg farmers, marketers, retailers, and consumers to appeal to the NOSB and the staff of the USDA's National Organic Program to enforce the requirement for outdoor access. "The good news," adds Kastel, "is that the vast majority of family-scale producers are complying with the organic regulations and meeting consumer expectations."