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Turkey Tracks: The Best Eggs

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Turkey Tracks:  December 12, 2010


Before Thanksgiving, I went into our local co-op–Good Tern–in Rockland, Maine, where I do the bulk of my weekly grocery shopping.   November, as you may know, is the egg low point of the year.  Since our wheaten Americaunas starting their yearly molt and since the Marans don’t lay in the winter, we’ve had no eggs for some weeks now.   On a shelf in the cooler were eggs from an industrial organic egg factory located in New England and selling eggs all the way into the southern states:  Pete and Gerry’s organic eggs.  These eggs were selling for $6!!! a dozen.  These folks have the most charming, caring stories about their operation in their egg packages–all of which is advertising hype and which is a perfect example of “buyer beware.”

 I tracked down a staff member and protested.  Why were expensive industrial eggs from tortured hens taking up limited space when we have many small local farmers producing superier, unlabeled organic eggs from pastured chickens, trying to make a living?  (One significant problem for many small farmers is the cost of getting and keeping official organic certification.)  The following week, two days before leaving for Charleston to spend Thanksgiving with our children and grandchildren, the manager explained that some members were asking for certified organic eggs and asked me to put in some sweat equity and write a education piece on why industrial organic eggs were not the best buy.  Here’s what I wrote for the coop newsletter, though I’m not sure I made their deadline since I had technical troubles sending messages in Charleston.

Here’s a picture my daughter-in-law Tami took and sent to me of eggs cracked open into a white bowl.  One yolk stands out with its vivid, pumpkin orange color against the other paler yellow yolks.  It’s the difference between a pastured layer and industrial “organic” yolks.


Choose, first, organic eggs.  But, understand that the term “organic” is no longer a guarantee for a healthy food.  With regard to eggs, within the term “organic,” there are other important factors to consider.

Despite cheerful, wishful advertising to the contrary, all industrial “organic” layer confined animal organizations (CAOs) have some significant problems that impact egg quality:  the health of the layers; the feed; and the indoor, inhumane, unhealthy overcrowding that is inherent within this model.  Commercial layers are units of production only.  They are mass produced in incubators for a system that needs them to lay as many eggs as possible, regardless of the season.  Hens are born with a finite number of eggs, and most hens can lay eggs continuously, except for molting once, for about two years.  Industrial hens are debeaked and forcibly molted by starvation for up to two weeks.

Organic feed does not contain agricultural chemicals and does not use genetically modified products, but those facts are about the only good thing about it.  The quality of commercially produced organic feed is very poor since our government has allowed the organic chicken industry to cut quality to the bone in an effort to reduce production costs.  But, those costs are not necessarily passed on to the consumer.  For instance, Pete and Gerry’s organic eggs—products of a CAO holding 130,000 birds and delivering eggs throughout New England and into the Southern states–are currently selling for about $6 a dozen.  The Country Hen eggs—another massive layer operation– charges $4 for six eggs, or $8 a dozen.  Our local, unlabeled organic eggs are about $4.50 a dozen.

All the commercial chicken feeds, including the organic feeds, are 90 percent corn and 10 percent soy, contain about 20 synthetic chemicals meant to substitute for real ingredients lacking in the mixture, and contain waste products (meal, oil) from other industrial processes.  The corn/soy ratio does not contain enough protein, so our  government allows the addition of a synthetic essential amino acid, methionine.  Highly processed soybean oil added to the mixture is already rancid and can be trans fat laden.  These feeds are mashes or pelletized mashes.

Government organic rules stopped the addition of unspeakable animal by-products into commercial organic chicken feeds, but rather than mandating a healthy protein source or a better grain/legume ratio, it allowed the cheap corn, soy, and methionine mixture.  Corn fattens, and while soy, which must be cooked, can provide protein if given in sufficient quantity, it has a dangerous antinutrient package that American industry has never been able to fully detoxify.  Thus, soy antinutrients slowly poison animals, which does not matter to industry because neither meat chickens or layers live that long.  But, what is all the soy in our industrial animal feeding systems doing to us?

Commercial chicken feeds are throwing off the omega 3 and 6 ratios in both eggs and meat.  Human diets should have a ratio of 1:1, or not more than 1:3.  The standard American diet today is giving most Americans an omega 3 to 6 ratio of 1:20-25.  This boosted omega 6 imbalance is not healthy and is likely part of why so many people have chronic illnesses.  It’s also why producers are claiming their eggs have “more omega 3s.”

Chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians.  To produce an egg with balanced omega 3 to 6 balances, chickens need to eat what they ate before industry, beginning in the 1950s, began to change their diet to allow lucrative industrial operations.  Chickens love green vegetation (grass, clover, greens), and the green matter is what gives a healthy egg its dark orange color.  Chickens like protein from insects and worms, and small flocks have always traditionally been given leftovers from the kitchen, which means chickens also eat meat, dairy, vegetables, and fruits.  Chickens choose grains and legumes only after the above foods are gone, so grain/legume mixtures should be supplements only, offered for free choice, and should include at least five different whole grains.

The Maine Poultry Growers Association (MPGA) says consumers need to know whether or not the layer spends time daily on pasture and that other descriptive terms, like “free range,” are meaningless.  MPGA notes that recent studies from Penn State University “found that eggs from chickens that ate grass and insects contained higher levels of omega-3 fat, and vitamins E, A, and in some cases D.”

In effect, industrial CAOs are a bad match with organic principles.  Chickens confined indoors for their lifetime in a barn containing thousands of other chickens and all their combined daily manure live marginal lives and are breathing in excessive amounts of ammonia.  When raised with industrial methods and fed an industrial diet, they cannot be very healthy.  Without ever getting to the ethics of what occurs in a CAO, it is easy to see that these chickens are not going to lay eggs that bear much resemblance to the eggs that have nurtured humans for centuries.  And, buying these eggs, even if they were reasonably priced with regard to their quality, is only going to perpetuate this soul-killing system.

So, the best egg is going to come from a local farmer whose chickens have access to pasture; are fed a variety of foods, to include organic whole grains; and are allowed to rest and recuperate during the winter season.  Second best eggs would come from a local farmer whose chickens have access to pasture and who are fed a commercial organic feed.  And, third-best eggs would come from a local farmer whose chickens are fed organic feed and who, hopefully, are not housed in small cages.

As consumers, we have to ask our local farmers to pasture their chickens and to feed them wholesome food.   We have to ask our local stores to carry these healthy eggs.  And, we need to understand and respect what chickens need.

Written by louisaenright

December 12, 2010 at 8:00 pm