Organic egg firms criticized
Updated: Thursday, May 19, 2011 1:58 PM
Cornucopia targets large operations only, grower alleges
By STEVE BROWN
Two organic egg producers have denied complaints an industry watchdog group filed with USDA and say the issue centers on their size, not their practices.
"The tiny porches attached to the henhouses on Herbruck's Poultry Ranch, Petaluma Egg Farm, a major Organic Valley supplier, and a handful of other industrial egg producers fail to meet either the intent or the letter of the law governing organic production and food labeling," Cornucopia policy analyst Mark Kastel alleged.
Steve Herbruck, president and CEO of the Michigan producer, said his operation is certified by Quality Assurance International, which he called the largest certifier in the world.
"We've been certified 12 years in a row, and we were recertified just last week," he said.
His organic layers have outdoor access in a covered, screened porch running the entire length of the building. In Michigan's climate, he said, "We pick the days they have access. It would be cruel out there in harsh weather."
Herbruck also must comply with federal Food and Drug Administration food safety rules. "If we have a hole big enough for a rodent to get in, we're in violation," he said.
Cornucopia does a good job of raising organic awareness, Herbruck said, "but unfortunately, we're large, and Cornucopia would like to change organic standards to make it harder for large producers."
Cornucopia filed a separate complaint against the country's largest name-brand organic egg marketer, CROPP, the farmer-owned cooperative that markets eggs under the Organic Valley brand.
Organic Valley's local eggs on the West Coast are produced by Petaluma Egg Farm. Petaluma produces conventional and organic eggs under numerous brand names, including Rock Island, Uncle Eddie's, Judy's Family Farm and Gold Circle, as well as for Organic Valley. Cornucopia said Petaluma's outdoor access consists solely of a "sun porch," which is entirely enclosed and screened to prevent the birds from going outside.
Steve Mahrt, who called himself "the head egg gatherer" at Petaluma, said his egg farm is certified by Oregon Tilth and all his hens are cage-free. "They have outdoor access in screened areas, some of them covered. They're naturally ventilated and naturally lit."
Mahrt said he started in 1983 and the farm was the first certified organic egg operation on the West Coast, in 1996, "even before USDA got involved."