Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Chicken RunOur friend Nancy Stewart alerted us that the dispute over organic egg regulations took a strange turn last week.

The USDA rules require that organic egg-laying hens be allowed access to the outdoors. But advocates for animal welfare feel that large-scale organic egg producers do not currently provide their hens with enough outdoor access. There is an effort to convince the USDA to strengthen the outdoor access requirement.

Now, it turns out that the FDA has a rule of its own for egg farmers. (That’s right, the FDA—a completely separate government department). The FDA “Egg Rule” says if you are a large scale producer (over 3,000 hens), you must takes steps to prevent your hens from picking up the Salmonella Enteritidis bug. The Egg Rule is not new. But the FDA just recently issued a “draft guidance” which basically says that the Egg Rule means that laying hens—even organic ones—should never be allowed outside. At least not in the real world. You can let the hens into an outdoor area as long as you keep them away from all wild birds, rodents, and flies.

Setting aside the annoyance of two different agencies playing tug-of-war with the rules, it just seems wrong that the term “organic” should be watered down in this way. Outdoors where the wild birds are, where the rodents and the flies are—that is exactly where chickens naturally belong. If we can’t let the hens interact with nature, I don’t think we should be calling their eggs “organic.”

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Federal Budget Debate

October is a very busy month for farmers. This year, it is also very busy for the lawmakers and lobbyists who are working out how much the federal government will spend on agricultural programs. We understand and support the idea that the government must not spend beyond its means, and that agricultural spending must be cut in line with everything else to balance the budget. But we would like to defend a small part (3%) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget that many people don’t understand: the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Most people know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to prevent people from harming the environment. But while the EPA is telling everybody what they are doing wrong, the NRCS is actively helping farmers do things right. The NRCS provides expert consulting and funding for farm projects that benefit the environment. This may sound self-serving coming from a farmer who has directly benefited from NRCS funding, but the carrot-and-stick system really works.

Last week, a group of conservation organizations sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that says it all.

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Egg Benefits

I am delighted to report that our winter season eggs have maintained an incredible taste advantage over those industrial-farmed eggs you find in the supermarket. Our hens are still foraging outside every day in their winter paddock, and we still feed them all-organic feed with no antibiotics and no hormones. At night, the hens sleep in their hoophouse with natural sapling roosts and deep straw bedding. I feel good about the health benefits of the eggs and about the welfare of the hens, but when I hear my family ooh and aah over breakfast—that’s what it’s all about!

Check out these photos by Sara Maxwell

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Seventy percent of the antibiotics sold in the US are fed to livestock. Surprisingly, most of these antibiotics are not to treat sick animals, or even to prevent them from getting sick. Industrial farms mostly use antibiotics to make animals grow faster. Nobody knows why this works, but it does. But this practice almost certainly contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, creating a threat to human health. (Note: we do not use any antibiotics at all on our animals.)

Last week, the FDA proposed a new rule saying certain antibiotics can no longer be used to promote growth. We don’t think this goes far enough. Farmers can still use antibiotics to prevent disease, so they can continue feeding antibiotics and simply claim it is to prevent disease. We think non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock should be phased out completely, as proposed by the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.

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Roundup Ready Weeds

Interesting article in the New York Times last week about how widespread use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of herbicide-resistant superweeds. This is just one more strike against a system that sounded good on paper, but turns out to have major negative unintended consequences.

The big idea is that tilling the soil is bad because it causes erosion. This is undoubtedly correct. Roundup is part of an alternative system that does not require tilling. But the other part of the system is genetically modified, Roundup-tolerant versions of corn, soybeans, and other crops. Patented genes from these GMO crops make their way via natural pollination into non-GMO crops, and pretty soon it is a crime for a farmer to save his own seeds, as farmers have been doing for the last 13,000 years.

It’s also an open question whether soil is healthier being poisoned every year or being tilled. In any case, it’s time to find a different solution to the erosion problem.

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The National Organic Standards Board is reviewing requirements for livestock living conditions. They are thinking about requiring organic livestock (including  beef cattle, dairy cattle and poultry) to be given access to pasture during the growing season.

Many consumers are not even aware that “organic” livestock are not already required to live outside on pasture in the summertime.

Many organic producers (especially poultry producers) are concerned that such a radical change in the standard will destroy the businesses they have struggled so many years to build.

The problem is that our labeling system is outdated. We have one catch-all standard, “organic,” that is pulled in different directions by different interest groups. The French are thirty years ahead of us in standards. They now have four major labeling programs that complement each other, reducing consumer confusion and allowing each producer to find its place on a spectrum of philosophies.

I think we should follow the French example. It is time we added a second label with teeth like the French “Label Rouge.” I’d love to hear what you think.

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E.coli still remains prominent in the news and recalls of product seem to be happening all too often. What is being done to remedy this?

An article written in the NY Times last December, After Delays, Vaccine to Counter Bad Beef Is Being Tested , describes how the meat industry is testing a new cattle vaccination to help make cattle  immune to a dangerous form of the E. coli bacteria that is resistant to the acidity of the human stomach.  I believe that by vaccinating the cattle, we are only treating the symptoms and not the cause.

Research conducted by Cornell University, Cattle diets could control E. coli danger , shows that cattle fed a grain based diet promote the growth of harmful acid resistant E. coli, and that just feeding cattle hay for five days before butchering, will “dramatically reduce” these forms of E.coli.

Imagine if the cattle ate just grass or hay and did not stand knee deep in their own feces.

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Times OP-ED

cow_planetInteresting OP-ED piece in the New York Times yesterday. The cows-are-worse-than-cars proposition has really caught fire because it appeals both to vegetarians and to conservatives. I am biased, of course. I think the author of the piece did not emphasize strongly enough how much damage to the planet is done by tilling the soil. Mob-grazing cows on pasture is the fastest, lowest cost, earth-friendliest way to undo the damage. The meat produced is just a bonus.

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