chickens in yard behind coop fence

There has been quite a kerfuffle in the media and in agriculture posts about the rise of egg prices due to an animal welfare law in California. Back in 2008, California voters approved a statewide initiative requiring that eggs come from chicken (still) in cages that (at least) provide room for the birds to lie down, stand up, turn around, and fully extend their wings. The law went into effect January 1, 2015 and it applies to all eggs sold in the state wherever the eggs were laid. According to the Wall Street Journal editorial board,  “The state’s latest animal-rights march is levying a punishing new food tax on the nation’s poor.” Which leads me to ponder…why is food produced under dubious methods glorified just because it is cheap?

What’s all the clucking about?

According to the USDA the average price for a dozen jumbo conventional cage-bound chicken eggs is $3.16, up from $1.18 a dozen years ago, and in some parts of the state it’s more than $5.00 per dozen. Even at these prices that is still less than .50 cents per egg. Let’s consider that we will hungrily pay $12.00 and more for a three egg omelet and then wash it down with that $5.00 cappuccino mocha at our local grind. Is it too much to ask to pay for humane living conditions so the beasts that provide us food can live as they were intended?

It is foul out there!

If every consumer could take a tour of most of the commercial egg laying houses to see, smell, and hear the woeful conditions of the layers, they would be sickened and horrified. Imagine hundreds of thousands of birds cramped in cages so tight they can never lie down, never stand up, turn around, or extend their wings. Is this the way our food was intended to be produced? At what cost to chickens suffering abysmal lives of misery must we demand cheap eggs? I wish everyone clamoring for less expensive eggs could make this trip just once. They would gladly pay more.

Hidden costs come home to roost.

The price of industrial conventional food production is cheap at the check-out counter but has longer term costs that eventually come home to roost. Consider the decades of agricultural pesticide runoff invading our wetlands, rivers, and streams. The Des Moines Water Works  issued their intent to sue three neighboring counties because of high nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. They have been filtering agriculture runoff out of municipal drinking water to the tune of $900,000 per year. That certainly isn’t chicken feed!

As industrial farming seeks to maximize production, our tops soils erode, our pollinators disappear, and our seed biodiversity is reduced.

Food is cheap because we pay later for the unintended consequences to our environment and our health.

Eat more pay less?

Industrially produced food gives us the ninety-nine cent burger and the two dollar bag of nuggets but it also leads to expanding obesity and diabetes. Salt, fat, and sugar lure our taste buds while making us fat, tired, and sick. Even the military is up in arms about the trend, issuing a report called Too Fat to Fight. They report that “at least nine million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States are too fat to serve in the military. That is 27 percent of all young adults. Obesity rates among children and young adults have increased so dramatically that they threaten not only the overall health of America but also the future strength of our military.” More than two thirds of American adults are obese or overweight. Type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are national epidemics and the true costs of the related health care are certainly nothing to crow about!

A new food paradigm

Let the lessons from a few good eggs in California spread to the rest of our food choices. It is time we stood up for the chickens, the sows, our waters, our seeds, and our very health. The future of the planet may be healed or ruined by the food choices we make. We get what we pay for and we can either pay now or we can pay later.

Read more on this topic from Dan Imhoff from his blog: Invisible Math: Accounting for the Real Costs of Big Ag

Reference the article “GMO Watch” Because the food choices we make include GMO animal products.

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About The Author

Melody Meyer's picture

Melody is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). In this role she is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical organic issues. Her Blog covers a range of organic and sustainable food issues.

She is the executive director of the UNFI Foundation which is dedicated to funding non-profit organizations that promote organic agriculture Melody serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association

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