The Grower’s Responsibility – And How to Get Clean Food
Who is responsible for the quality of our food?
Let’s take it as a given that the majority of us want to buy food that is raised humanely and sustainably, and without excessive contamination or harmful processes and by-products.
If that’s the case, we’re not doing very well. Let’s look at the poultry industry in America and how it works.
Some of the people who have the best window into how American farmers actually raise chickens, for either meat or eggs, are either frontline slaughter personnel, many of whom are foreign-born migrant workers, and USDA inspectors who have gone through specific training processes to monitor birds on behalf of the federal government.
How often do you talk to one of these individuals?
At GTKYF Foundation Inc, we actually end up talking to people involved in food production systems fairly often. In fact, we’ve gone right to the farm and observed how these birds are raised on site. That’s not easy for the average consumer to do – in fact, it’s downright illegal. Farmers aren’t really looking to give tours of their poultry operations, partly because some astoundingly bad practices have cropped up.
Those with frontline access to preprocessed poultry often describe large numbers of birds being condemned for various conditions like septicemia, bacterial infections and parasites. Most of these conditions result from a dirty poultry situation where birds sit or stand in their own waste, or don’t have access to natural healthy environments with adequate space and sunlight.
Shining the Light on Poultry Practices
How does this translate to what consumers do in the supermarket?
As is so often the case, the supermarket is not the place to get information about your food.
Instead, the industry has created deceptive labels that really fool most people into thinking they’re getting higher-quality, more humane and sustainable results than they actually are.
Let’s talk about the two main industry labels – ‘cage free’ and ‘free range.’
As has been pointed out to us by experienced USDA inspectors and others, ‘cage free’ simply means that the chickens are locked in a barn, rather than being locked in small cages. It doesn’t mean that they have adequate space – or that they’re not sitting in deep feces and filth that will cause them to become sick and develop conditions so that they’re condemned on the line.
Depressingly enough, the ‘free range’ label isn’t much better. It specifies that the birds have at some point gotten access to outdoor conditions, but doesn’t specify for how long or what the conditions are like when they’re not in pasture.
So consumers are already paying a premium for free range and cage free labels, and to their chagrin and disappointment, when they talk to people in the industry, they are told that there’s still no guarantee of quality, despite the fact that they are paying more for their eggs or chicken then they normally would.
“You have to go to the farm,” a USDA worker told us last winter at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. “Otherwise, you just don’t know!”
But of course, most consumers find it difficult to “just go to the farm.” In those cases, demanding cage free and free range is the most effective way that we can advocate for better practices.
You can see what’s wrong with this picture – the old poet said that “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry” – in this case, it’s not through the fault of those actual mice and men, but through deceptive hidden practices deliberately kept out of the limelight.
You can see the ridiculous futility of this process through looking at another label that you’ll almost never find on the supermarket shelf.
“Pasture raised” poultry means that the chickens have actually been raised outdoors.
There’s a good chance that their excrement has been allowed to naturally flush itself into the ground in a natural way, and that chickens are living much as they used to hundreds of years ago – surrounded by fresh air and foliage, green space and all of those elements of nature that all of the Earth’s species have evolved in up until around 200 to 300 years ago.
If you want an even more sick and deceptive twist to the story, just look at how many small farmers have been penalized, beaten and drummed out of business specifically for having adopted practices that don’t conform to the cruel and inhumane model of pushing chickens indoors. There are all sorts of technicalities that lead to these penalties and limitations that the small family farmer faces – but none of them are impacting the consumer’s food in the negative ways that are so rampant in big agriculture.
But It Can’t Be Done!
When you actually get involved, you’ll find people who tell you that good, pasture farming of birds can’t be done, that it just isn’t practical.
Tell that to these folks at Primal Pastures who are successfully raising hundreds of birds out in the green – with innovative and adaptive processes that really wouldn’t be that hard for big ag to follow – if they didn’t mind loosening their grip on maximal profit to shareholders.
What Can I Do?
As the experts have told us – the only way to really figure out what’s happening on the farm is to go to the farm. You can buy at a farmer’s market – you can buy direct contact to consumer and ask questions. Otherwise, if you show up looking for good fresh pasture-raised product on your supermarket shelf – you’re almost certain to be disappointed day after day, week after week and month after month.
At GTKYF Foundation Inc, we are working directly with farmers to try to solve this problem. We’re taking donations and we welcome helping hands – even if you just want to do it in order to get a first-hand view of what poultry production is really like. Don’t be a passive player in this sad drama – join us and let’s make better things happen!