One of the largest egg producers in the country is “Eggland’s Best” located in Saranac, Michigan. The President is Greg Herbruck. Eggland’s Best houses almost 2 million birds in nine buildings. Each building has three hens per square foot. Draw a square foot on a piece of paper in front of you. Each side should be 12”. Think of three birds living inside that square. How can that be considered anything but inhumane?
The USDA’s official requirements mandate that the birds are supposed to have access to “outdoors,” get “direct sunlight,” and “fresh air.” The birds are supposed to be able to engage in their “natural behavior” which means foraging on the ground for food, dust bathing, and even engaging in short flights. In a Washington Post expose, Peter Whoriskey posted a front-page article on July 13th about the USDA’s inability to police these major industrialized egg producers. Apparently, some of them have created “porches” which they are claiming meet the USDA requirements for the bird’s access to the outdoors. These porches are typically walled in areas with a roof, cement floors, and screening on one side. The rationale for utilizing porches instead of allowing the birds access to the outdoors was capsulized in a comment from Herbruck that said: “porches keep the hens safe, allowing them to be outdoors while protecting them from wild birds like ducks and geese and predators like vermin that spread disease and can hurt or kill hens.”
Approximately, 12% of supermarket egg sales are organic. The overwhelming majority of consumers buying organic eggs think that the hens that are laying these eggs live outside. According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, more than 80% of the consumers who regularly buy organic eggs believe it is important that eggs come from hens that are allowed outside. The Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin, a watchdog group that has sought to guard against the weakening of the organic standards, has complained repeatedly to the USDA about egg factories that keep their hens inside.
In 2011, USDA voted unanimously to classify porches on hen houses as “indoors” not “outdoors.” The Board said each bird should have at least 1 ½ square feet of indoor space and two feet of outdoor space. Senatorial lobbyists from the states that house the large industrial egg producers wrote to Tom Vilsack stating that “their constituents have expressed significant concern regarding possible unintended consequences of the new rule. The Senators asked for additional time for public comment. That delay has just been extended another six months. So a USDA rule change that was unanimously voted in in 2011 has been effectively stalled by Congress for six years.
These lobbyists and industrialized egg producers published a study by North Carolina State University that found mortality rates of over 30% for birds allowed outside versus 6% for birds kept inside. The study was funded by the large poultry companies. However, in 2013 the USDA studied farms in 19 states with at least 3,000 birds and showed that the average mortality rate was 7% at organic operations that allowed the birds access to lots of outside sunlight and grass as opposed to 10% in conventional operations.
Just based on a humane treatment criterion, it is clear that being outside allows the bird to indulge in its normal behavior like dust bathing, foraging, and even some flight.
If you inspect our chickens, you will see that during the warmer months, they spend literally all day outside. We have nets high above them that prevent predators like hawks from swooping in and killing them. At night, they go in the roost to sleep and are protected from predators like foxes and raccoons. However, in the morning when the doors open at sunrise, they cannot get outside fast enough. There is no doubt where the chickens want to be.
Paul V. Profeta co-founded Profeta Farms with his wife, certified Integrative Nutrition Coach, Joanne Malino and organic farmer John Place. After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Paul created a very successful real estate investment company. Concomitantly, he taught and published at Harvard Business School, created the Real Estate Investment Department at Columbia Business School, and most recently endowed the Chaired Professorship of Real Estate at Rutgers Business School resulting in the creation of the Rutgers Center for Real Estate. As a successful athlete in high school and college, Profeta was always interested in health, nutrition, and alternative medicine. Eventually, he decided that America has to change the way it feeds itself. Industrialized food processors shipping food across the country creating a large carbon footprint and offering “food products” with known contaminants and questionable ingredients was not the answer. He has created Profeta Farms, LLC as a template for the way America should feed itself… local, sustainable, certified organic farms featuring integrity and transparency, using the environment in a sustainable and responsible fashion while treating animals humanely so that local shoppers can “know their farmer” and personally check on the farmers methods and ingredients.