Farmers' Markets Should Adopt Cage-Free Egg Policy | Civil Eats

Farmers’ Markets Should Adopt Cage-Free Egg Policy

If you’re like anything like me, one of the main draws for heading to the farmers market each week is the abundance of fresh, seasonal, local food. And we farmers’ market shoppers assume that we’re doing business with local family farmers practicing sustainable methods.

In most cases that’s probably the case – but not always. Sometimes the mythology of farmers markets is not matched by the reality. Many California farmers markets, for instance, allow vendors to sell eggs produced by hens crammed into the insufferable cage confinement systems just like those involved in the recent egg recall – the largest in U.S. history

Not only is this intensive confinement inhumane and unsustainable, it also poses a real threat to food safety. Cramming birds into cages exacerbates the risk of Salmonella contamination. In fact, every one of the last ten studies comparing cage to cage-free systems found higher Salmonella rates in cage systems, including a 2010 study that found 20 times greater odds of Salmonella infection in caged flocks.

Confining hens into cages so small they can’t even spread their wings, let alone nest, dust bathe, perch, forage or walk is not a practice worthy of local farmers markets.

Multiple undercover investigations at California egg factory farms revealed rampant animal abuse and food safety concerns, such as live birds forced to live on top of mummified bird carcasses rotting in cages. These conditions were similar to those that the FDA found at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, the companies at the center of the current egg recall.

California’s farmers markets can and should set a higher standard – especially since their customers likely already think they are.

After all, California, voters overwhelmingly passed 2008’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (Prop 2) making it a criminal offense to confine hens in cages by 2015. California recently extended this requirement to all eggs sold in the state. Hundreds of California restaurants along with dozens of major companies like Burger King, Subway, and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise are already using cage-free eggs. Furthermore, national and local retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Andronico’s, New Leaf Markets, Jimbo’s Naturally, Berkeley Bowl and many others have made a commitment to only sell cage-free eggs.

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So, earlier this week, The Humane Society of the United States mailed 258 letters to all of the managers on California’s list of certified farmers markets requesting that they adopt policies to prohibit the sale of eggs from caged hens.

To increase food safety, improve animal welfare, and to meet the expectations of their consumers, we hope California’s farmers markets will stop allowing their well-earned ‘halo effect’ to extend to companies and products that don’t deserve it.

We could use your help. If you live in California, please contact your local market’s managers and ask them to hold their vendors to higher standards by adopting an exclusively cage-free egg policy.

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Sacramento-based Jennifer Fearing is the chief economist for The Humane Society of the United States, and also served as the manager of the successful YES! on Prop 2 campaign, which passed overwhelmingly in California last November. Read more >

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  1. "Free-Range" Eggs – Can You Tell The Difference?




    "Free-Range" Hen

    • Debeaked with a hot bloody blade at one day old with no anesthetic.

    • Force molted (intentionally starved to shock the body into another laying cycle).

    • Violently packed into a semi and trucked hundreds of miles to an agonizing slaughter when considered “spent” (unable to keep laying eggs at a fast enough pace).

    • Denied the opportunity to live a natural life in truly humane care.

    • All of her brothers (roosters) are brutally killed as baby chicks simply because they can’t lay eggs.


    Battery Cage Hen

    • Debeaked with a hot bloody blade at one day old with no anesthetic.

    • Force molted (intentionally starved to shock the body into another laying cycle).

    • Violently packed into a semi and trucked hundreds of miles to an agonizing slaughter when considered “spent” (unable to keep laying eggs at a fast enough pace).

    • Denied the opportunity to live a natural life in truly humane care.

    • All of her brothers (roosters) are brutally killed as baby chicks simply because they can’t lay eggs.
  2. Are most farmer's market eggs in battery cages? Thought they went beyond free range to pasture raised.

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