Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why I choose to buy free range organic eggs from small scale local producers

Recently there was a charity breakfast at work and when asked if I was going, I responded that I wasn't going because I'm 'fussy about the eggs I eat'.

Today that same colleague asked me to explain what I meant by that. I wasn't expecting the question and so didn't give a very good answer. Mostly I rambled on about how I only buy eggs from people I know and that even organic free range eggs at the grocery store are not to be trusted.

After some reflection and with a desire to sound slightly less paranoid (!) next time I explain this, I thought I'd jot down my reasons here.

So. My reasons for choosing local organic free range eggs are threefold in the following priority:

1. Ethical
2. Environmental
3. Personal health

While it would be wonderful if all our eggs came from happy free to run around chickens like the above pic, the truth is that 90+% of the eggs in Canada are produced under the most horrendously cruel conditions. Do a quick google search and you will find videos and photos of birds crammed in cages, debeaked so they don't kill each other, covered in crap from the birds in cages above them, starved of food for weeks at a time to force an increase in productivity etc. etc. etc.

It's really awful. The worst part is that this is all legal. Unlike puppy mills and other places you see animals rescued from, these conditions (from what I understand) would actually pass inspection.

This is starting to change. Not yet in Canada but factory farmed egg production is already banned in switzerland and will be outlawed in the EU by 2012.

Fyi, the new name for factory farming is 'confined animal-feeding operations' or CAFO for short. I find this interesting because from what I can tell, this new name was devised by the industry itself, I can only imagine as being more polictically correct than factory farm. For me it does the opposite. It reminds me that these are not 'farms' in any sense. They are production lines.

Ok, next reason...environmental concerns. From what I've read here, here and here, the negative environmental effects of CAFO's are mostly as a result of the huge amount of waste produced. On a small scale farm where chickens are really allowed to roam free, the waste is actually useful; fertilizing pastures (often where free range cows roam). But at large scale factory farms, the amount of waste produced is far too great and often ends up contaminating ground water. In addition to the contamination from poop bacteria, because the chickens need regular and strong doses of antibiotics just to survive in such an environment, these chemicals too end up in the ground water via the waste produced by the chickens.

Gross huh?

And I won't even get into the electricity required to run the machinery and lights in the giant barns or the amount of gasoline used to truck the eggs from the factory farms to the grocery store distribution point and then to the store itself.

Last reason. Personal health. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that an egg produced from a chicken that lives in disease filled conditions and pumped full of chemicals, and nasty food, will not be as nutritious, or as good for one's health as an egg produced from a chicken allowed to roam free, eating a varied diet, and lived disease free without the use of chemicals. I'm sure the CFIA would say that there is no evidence to show this but well, you'll have to excuse me being paranoid on that one.

So I get my eggs from two local suppliers that I know and trust. I know the chickens that lay my eggs are happy and healthy and spend lots of time running around outside.

And I don't go out for breakfast anymore. And I try not to buy baked goods made with eggs from factory farms (my goal is to phase this out completely - it's a process).

And I feel good about that personal choice.

(I realize that I didn't get into the organic vs. factory farmed eggs vs. grocery store free-range etc. eggs. Personally I'm skeptical of anything industrial scaled. But if I had to pick I would chose eggs in this order:
1. Local, organic, free range eggs
2. Local eggs (provided I knew the farmer and how the chickens were treated)
3. Industrial scaled organic eggs
4. No eggs
5. Factory farmed eggs

Also, for a tongue in cheek education in factory farms, check out The Meatrix

Lastly if you want to know where you can get local organic eggs in the ottawa area, try the COG-Ottawa Listing. Also check at farmers markets and ask your friends. But keep in mind that a lot of small scale egg production is on the down low due to various rules and regulations that I won't pretend to understand.)


Theresa said...

Sorry - I'm littering your blog with comments! I had to comment on this post for sure though, because it was my experience of a chicken making eye contact with me while I was standing next to a truck full of chickens for slaughter that made me decide to become a vegetarian. I made a promise to that chicken that day, and haven't eaten any chicken since.

You're right though, if I eat anything less than free range organic eggs I'm breaking my promise to that chicken. I do buy commercial organic eggs, but you're also right about not being able to trust large commercial enterprises. I will take more care in my choice of eggs from now on. Thanks for posting about this.

Green Grrl said...

Hi Theresa!

I love comments - comment away! :)

I can appreciate your experience. I was vegetarian for many years and even though I do eat meat now, I only buy meat that has come from animals that I know have had a good life.

I also try not to eat meat too often and I never, ever waste meat.

However I do still struggle with that decision as the fact that they have been slaughtered means they have felt some suffering (even though the farmers I buy from go to very good small scale slaughterhouses).

I think there is a fairly good chance that I will go back and forth between being veg and non-veg my whole life.

Toby said...

Care to tell us where you get your eggs? I recently bought some in Quebec but haven't been able to find a place in Ottawa

Green Grrl said...

Hi Toby,

I get my eggs from a hobby farming friend who doesn't sell to the general public. But there are a few egg suppliers listed in the organic ottawa food directory: http://www.cog.ca/ottawa/ottlist.htm

Sorry I can't be more help than that. The rules for selling eggs in Ontario are pretty tight. Don't want to get anyone in trouble.

Toby said...

It is unfortunate that the rules are so strict. I remember being in BC and farmers would have 'egg boxes' at the foot of their driveways. You just grab a carton and leave your money.

Perhaps it will be easier to find something on the Quebec side of the river.

Urban Girl said...

I also hope to find a local farmer who has a smaller flock - not like some that have 14,000 "range free" but kept indoors.

A colleague at work lived in Mechanicsville and had three hens (named after his and his partner's grandmothers) laying eggs in a coop in his back yard - he'd bring in a dozen for those who were interested from time to time.

He moved out of the province in 2008 and I had to say goodbye to that egg source! Really do need to find another local supplier.