Can You Really Trust Organic?

Should you trust the word “Organic” when you see it on your food labels? Regrettably, 74% of Americans do not based on the most recent survey conducted by the market research firm The Mintel Group.[1]  I say regrettably, because while not perfect, the USDA Organic program is one of the most successful and reliable standards ever implemented in the food industry. It has simultaneously revived the ability of smaller farmers and producers to compete with “Big Ag,” and at the same time it’s given consumers a choice about what goes into their bodies and into the environment.

Part of the skepticism around organic is a lack of education about what organic means. Many people believe that “anyone can say it.” This is definitely not true (it is however true of the terms “all natural” and “farm fresh” which have no definition or standard whatsoever). Every category is a little different, but every organic product must be comprised of all organic ingredients and be annually certified by an independent organic certification agency, all under the oversight of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the egg category, in order to be labeled USDA Organic, our hens must have received 100% organic feed from the time they are born and the pasture they graze on must have been kept free of pesticides or herbicides for a period of at least 3 years. There are even stipulations that address humane animal care, such as not allowing cages and having regular access to the outdoors.

So, are all organic eggs the same then? Definitely not. The regulations mentioned above are the minimum standard (and a very good one at that). But some giant egg producers who have seen the growth in organic have converted some of their conventional egg production to organic and are now only following the letter of the law, and not the spirit. For example one producer in Michigan keeps millions of hens on one organic “farm” that is really an industrial scale egg complex. The “outside access” for these birds is token at best with only small doors at one end of giant enclosures leading to a small concrete porch. These birds live their lives inside massive warehouse aviary systems. It’s better than being caged, but it’s still not really getting to be a chicken – pecking in the grass, running, dust bathing, etc. At Pete and Gerry’s, we follow the USDA Organic standards and we also are Certified Humane Free Range, which means we take a host of additional measures to insure our birds are happy and able to behave like real chickens.

As a member of the Organic Trade Association, I, and all our family farmers, have supported an effort to strengthen the humane animal care aspects of the organic rules. After a three-year effort, we finally were successful; but then recently, the Trump Administration postponed the rule change, and that may ultimately mean it’s not implemented. We will continue to push for this change (see recent blog post on this), but in the meantime, you can trust that our brand will continue to exceed the required standards.

So can you trust organic? Yes, to a great extent you can. But it’s certainly possible that some brands who are organic are not doing everything the way you would hope, while still being technically organic. Our advice at Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs is to understand the organic standard for the categories you buy and know that it is being enforced — but also understand that it’s worth digging a little deeper into how each brand is complying with and or exceeding that standard.

[1] The Natural/Organic Shopper – U.S., July 2017, The Mintel Group

Good Feed makes for Good Eggs

You are what you eat, as they say.

We all know that a good diet is essential to good health. That’s one reason many of us eat eggs. And yet, too often, as people, we don’t always do a great job with our own nutrition, ill-advised temptations being abundant. At Pete and Gerry’s, our organic, Certified Humane, free range hens have it a little bit better. To begin with, their “treats” are finding insects in the grass. And when it comes to their main meals, they get the benefit of PhD nutritionists as their personal chefs, something few of us enjoy.

Les Morrison, of Morrison Custom Feeds in Barnet, Vermont, a Pete & Gerry’s feed supplier, puts it this way “people food is in the stone age compared to what the hens get for balanced nutrition.” Feed mixtures are developed with an eye to making sure that a hens’ every nutritional need is met in terms of nutrients, protein, sodium-balancing bi-carbonates, ground limestone for developing a strong egg shell, electrolytes and much more.

Contrast that to the giant factory farms that make most of the eggs sold today which use a “least cost formulation” for their feed. That means exactly what it sounds like ­— whatever is the cheapest way possible to give the hens enough calories to lay eggs that day. You can see and taste the result in the eggs.

There are between 30 and 35 separate organic ingredients in our feed mix. And the mixture is adjusted continuously, based on the weather (cold or hot), the flock’s age and point in their laying cycle, general health, and a range of other factors. That’s why another of our feed advisors, Heritage Poultry Management Services, employs two full-time PhD animal nutritionists on their staff.

There is a lot of science to the way we formulate our feed. But one aspect of science that you won’t find in any of our feed is pharmaceuticals ­– something you will find in just about all feed that goes to factory farms, which make up 90% of the eggs sold in the U.S. According to Morrison, that’s just putting a Band-Aid on a problem that won’t actually fix it. “The way to keep birds healthy, besides feeding them properly, is to make sure their living environment is clean and not overcrowded” he says. “Good egg farmers are in their barns every day. They can see problems before they happen, sometimes just by listening to the birds” (quiet hen houses can be an indication of a virus starting to spread through the flock).

That’s why we don’t treat our free range hens prophylactically with drugs that are only going to decrease their resistance and then wind up in the eggs. We treat them with care instead.

Morrison concludes, after admitting to a weakness for potato chips in his own diet, that if he were to die and come back as a hen, he would hope to be a Pete and Gerry’s hen.

Actually Natural

One sees the term “all natural” all of the time. It is probably the most common two words in the grocery store at this point. That’s because manufacturers know that consumers are trying to find less processed, higher quality products that might have actually come from a farm and not a factory. And All Natural kind of says it all.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean much. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything, because it’s an unregulated term. It probably should mean something. To call potato chips, hot dogs, and things with ingredient statements that are longer than an iTunes license agreement “all natural” seems a bit disingenuous, if not downright untruthful. But the Food and Drug Administration allows it. All it really means is that it’s edible (theoretically). And that’s too bad, because consumers understandably assume that it means much more than that.

(For a humorous take on the use of the claim All Natural, see these hilarious videos by the Organic Trade Association).

In fact, the term sounds so trustworthy, studies show that a higher percentage of consumers trust the All Natural claim to mean no pesticides, no GMOs, no artificial hormones, etc. than those that trust the USDA Organic claim to mean those same things. Yet, that’s exactly what the certified USDA Organic seal guarantees.

In the egg aisle, that means that anyone can say All Natural, because well, it’s an egg, and it came from a chicken. But it doesn’t matter how that chicken was treated, what they were fed, or whether they needed antibiotics in their feed to ward off diseases from the hundreds of thousands of other birds confined to their “barn.” It’s still All Natural.

Hope may be on the way however, as the FDA, in response to public pressure, is reconsidering the definition of the term across all food categories. If you are interesting in commenting, you can go to this web site. The deadline for comments is May 10, 2016.

In the mean time, if you really want eggs from a farm, don’t be fooled by All Natural. Pete & Gerry’s Organic is actually natural.

Good News for Good Food

For many years, eggs were considered a cholesterol-packed villain in the story of you versus heart disease, and many people erroneously limited – or altogether avoided – eggs as a part of their regular heart healthy diet.

Now a report from a panel of U.S. nutrition and medical experts is debunking that myth for good. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a federal publication that has far-reaching impact on our food choices, announced “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” Meaning, eggs can shake off the bad reputation and be recognized as a nutritious and convenient part of your healthy, well-balanced diet.

And there’s more! According to CNN, the report also identifies under-consumed “shortfall nutrients,” including vitamins A, D, and E, as well as folate, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. You can find all of these nutrients and a slew of others in – you guessed it – EGGS!  To read the complete article from CNN, click here: “Cholesterol in food not a concern, new report says

So go ahead. Crack in to our eggs for breakfast, for dinner, or anytime. They’re good for you!

To read more about the nutritional benefits of eggs for you and your family, click here