“Organic and Free-Range” Fails Animals Once Again

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“Organic and Free-Range” Fails Animals Once Again

From United Poultry Concerns, another article which reminds us that organic, free range, and “all natural” animal products aren’t nearly as good as we’d expect them to be: Virginia farm supplies eateries in D.C. despite animal-care violations

(You can also read a complete account of the situation at United Poultry Concerns’ page.)

After months of citizen complaints, Black Eagle Farm, a respected organic and free-range farm in Virginia, was inspected.  From the farm’s website:

“Our organic pullets and layers are kept under stringent USDA organic standards and according to our own organic, and animal and environmentally friendly criteria.”

At Black Eagle Farm, inspectors found a dead goat tied to a fence, 6 dogs locked in a filthy trailer without water, and 25,000 egg-laying chickens who had been without food for two weeks in an attempt to force-molt the birds.

What is force-molting?  In nature, hens generally experience a natural molt near the beginning of winter.  They stop laying eggs and their energies are spent growing new feathers and staying warm.   Force-molting is the egg industry’s way of exploiting this process.  A common and legal practice, it’s a cost-efficient way to squeeze the last few pennies out of layer hens that, at a fifth of their natural lifespan, are physically exhausted and no longer laying eggs at a profitable rate.   Before they go to slaughter, these “spent hens” are denied food for anywhere from 5 days to up to 2 weeks.  They are then eased back onto food, and their egg production rises briefly.  An account of force-molting from Cal-Maine Egg Producers:

“Our chicken houses hold 126,000 give or take a few hundred. Our molts usually last about 12 days and during the molt we lose right around 50 birds a day. The last couple of days of the molt before we feed them we lose 100 to 150. The day we feed them we lose about 200-250 hens within a few hours after we feed them. The hens tend to gorge themselves and choke on the feed as they try to eat too much too soon, or at least that’s what we believe.”

After a short while, the surviving birds are then slaughtered.

When the starving hens at Black Eagle Farm were discovered, Quality Assurance Internatioal revoked the farm’s organic certification.  Black Eagle Farm immediately applied at another organic certifier, A Bee Organic, under the name “Piney River Farms”.

State veterinarian Rachel Touroo, who inspected the farm initially, identified 4 violations of animal care laws and recommended that the hens be fed and that veterinary care be provided to all the animals on the farm.  Two days later, a state supervisor visited the farm.  The hens had begun to be fed and were about to be sold and sent to slaughter, so no legal action was taken.  From the article:

Under state animal care laws, in general, “when we say a crime has not occurred that does not mean we feel the situation is ideal. It might be barely skating by,” said Daniel Kovich, a staff veterinarian at the Virginia Department of Agriculture who oversaw the investigation. “They can’t starve them to death, that’s the threshold.”

That’s encouraging: the situation wasn’t “ideal”, but the chickens hadn’t starved to death, so no crime was committed.  The birds went to slaughter, and Dr. Ralph Glatt, owner of Black Eagle Farm, received the profits.  No further legal action has been taken.

Learn more about organic and free-range animal agriculture at our page, “Humane” Farming.

Or download our leaflet, Humane, Organic, Sustainable: What Does it Mean for Animals?


Isla Kay

November 20, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Here’s another example of more inaccurate info. out there on “humane” eggs.


Victoria Ronco claims that she’s found a happy egg, but she conveniently forgets to mention that the same farm that sells happy eggs from chickens who are left to live their full lives out after they’re done laying eggs because the farmers “just like having chickens” also sells… chicken.

Victoria Ronco

April 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I didn’t “conveniently forget to mention” that – the article was about humane eggs. Poultry sale wasn’t something I was delving into, that brings up an entirely different debate about the ethics of eating animals (vegetarianism). Looking for a happy egg, in my opinion, is not part of that debate, and is a separate issue – so I focused on places that had happy eggs. If they happen to also sell chicken, that’s a separate issue. I, for example, am not a vegetarian – I’m a responsible Omnivore and I am careful about where my meat comes from, and what kind of life it has lived before it is slaughtered.

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