The egg and I
Some of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter probably noticed this week that we’ve been working on some portable huts for our laying hens here at the farm. They’re open air, but still offer protection and can be moved each day to a fresh patch of grass.
So, this guy must be in favor of free-range, pasture poultry production, you say. Yes, but not to the exclusion of other methods.
The recent attention to salmonella in eggs has a lot of people scrutinizing large, conventional egg production, with some quickly pointing to housing as the probable cause of the problem. Unfortunately, many small pasture-based producers are jumping on that incorrect supposition to “feather their own nest” so to speak. Guess what – I’m not one of them.
Pasture production yields a different type of egg, maybe more of the nature Grandma used to fry up for breakfast when some of you visited the farm for the summer. Brown eggs, bigger, more orange yolks, a real good egg. There’s a lot of indications, some of it pseudo-science, that pastured eggs might even be a little healthier for you. I won’t enter that debate.
I also won’t latch on to any other buzzwords to promote the eggs grown here on the farm -organic, free-range, cage-free (what do you call our hut if it’s not a big cage?) Farm-fresh might actually fit, but we won’t even promote them as that. They’re eggs, pure and simple.
A Newsweek article recently posed the question “Are Free-Range Eggs Safer?” Let’s get past the question of what constitutes free-range and jump right to the answer given by Darrell Trampel, a poultry-extension veterinarian and poultry diagnostician at Iowa State University. ”No.”
Buying organic or local doesn’t necessarily mean you’re protected from diseases. Trampel goes on to say that the source of the outbreak is still under investigation, but one likely culprit is mice, which can be a problem for farms of any size. “We had large production facilities in place before these problems occurred,” Trampel says. “Even today, we find Salmonella enteritidis on small organic farms—it’s not just the big ones.”
In fact, says Newsweek,
despite the hype, there’s contradictory evidence about whether eggs laid by free-range or organically fed hens are less likely to contract the bacteria than eggs laid in factory-farm settings. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, claims that chickens labeled “kosher,” “free range,” “organic,” or “natural” have lower salmonella levels are unsubstantiated.
Alrighty, then. Am I shooting myself in the foot here, saying that my small flock might have salmonella? Well, I’m a firm believer in telling the truth. There’s just more chance of finding it in an operation that turns out thousands of eggs per day, as opposed to our few dozen. Like everything else, everybody’s eggs have to be handled properly and cooked thoroughly or someone could get sick.
The point of this exercise is to say that we have to make sure the beam’s out of our eye before we start screaming about the speck in someone else’s (loose Matthew 7:3-5 paraphrase.) We in agriculture have to do a better job of telling how good our product is without running down anybody else. And, the organizations out to put an end to animal agriculture need to stop cherry-picking information that supports their vegan agenda and tell the truth.
It would seem that there might be some mismanagement at the affected farms and that’s not to be excused. However, it’s also no reason for anyone to indict an entire industry.
When the Roman legions marched into battle, they wore full armor on the front of their body, but much of their back was unprotected. They knew that their fellow soldiers would “have their backs” and they didn’t plan on turning away from the battle, thereby leaving themselves exposed. In ag, no matter what sector we’re engaged in, we need to “have each other’s back.” And to turn away from the battle? Well, that’s just unthinkable.