Stretching across New England, New York and Pennsylvania, this model of production involves entire families working to raise up to 20,000 free-range hens. But LaFlamme worries that they will be pushed out of production just as his parents nearly were. “There are efficiencies in a factory, efficiencies in large scale. We are paying a family farm a living.”
The USDA is in the process of finalizing a new rule to clarify outdoor access for poultry. The proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices requires organic producers to provide genuine outdoor access with space minimums and soil-type specifications, among many other animal-welfare provisions. It would also disqualify porches once and for all.
Meanwhile, the need to increase transparency and consumer trust in food labeling only grows more urgent. In August, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Organic Consumers Association filed a lawsuit against New York-based Handsome Brook Farm for “false, deceptive and misleading practices.” While claiming on its labels and in marketing materials that its eggs were “pasture raised,” the company routinely sourced from conventional farms, the lawsuit alleges.
There’s good reason for egg producers to capitalize on consumer preferences for products that meet higher animal-welfare standards. In the most recent ASPCA survey, 67 percent of consumers said they would likely buy “eggs, dairy and meat products bearing a welfare-certification label with meaningful standards, even if it meant paying a higher price.”
The question remains as to whether consumers will ever get what they believe they’re paying for.