Monday, July 24, 2006

Chicken Labels

Sunday afternoon it rained.

I was pretty much worn out from all that working in the heat so I took that for an excuse to flop down in my easy chair and look at the TV.

You have to understand that while I do look at the tube from time to time, it has been many years since I was able to sit through most of the nonsense it shows. I just look at documentaries and ball games, and those filtered through the TiVo.

I wound up looking at a couple of farm shows from RFDTV. They were conventional Agribusiness shows put on by different State Farm Bureau organizations.

This all got me thinking about chickens.

According to Farm Bureau the current price for eggs is thirty some cents per dozen. Broilers are going for a similar price per pound. Really.

That’s the whole story from the Commodity Ag report. What is not part of that number I feel sure is the fact that I get 2.50 a pound for broilers and the same price for a dozen eggs.

I recently read a blurb on the Internet posted by my State Extension Service that stated flatly that there were no independent egg producers in my State. None, really.

The poultry industry, be it eggs or broilers, is one of the worlds most tightly integrated markets. It all goes thorough two or three huge companies. Farmers contract with them to raise poultry under tightly controlled circumstances in monstrous numbers.

There are more people raising small numbers of chickens in farmyards and suburban backyards by far than there are factory style poultry farmers. Of course the factory farmers raise such large numbers of birds that they account for the overwhelming majority of the poultry out there.

It seems likely to me that even the Extension Service people are aware that some people have backyard flocks. If pressed they would probably admit that it is possible that some of the eggs and meat from these flocks is bought and sold.

This activity doesn’t get included in the numbers because somehow it doesn’t count. It is not agribusiness. I’m not arguing that it should count; I’m not arguing at all, I’m just making observations.

I was at a grocery store near here a while ago. I noticed that they had more than the standard eggs on offer. They had brown eggs, cage free eggs, organic eggs, and a few other variations.

Someone has figured out that some people will pay a premium price for eggs that are special. Clearly the shopper is being invited to believe that these eggs are produced in a way that is closer to a backyard flock than a food factory.

In the last decade or so many laws have been passed controlling the clams made on those fancy egg carton labels.

This was not done for the benefit of those keepers of backyard flocks.

It was done to help the big integrators pretend they are keepers of backyard flocks, or near enough as to make no difference.

This, it seems to me, is the whole point of the “organic food” industry.

Back in the day if someone told you that something was organic, it was a simple if somewhat imprecise way of saying that it was produced using old fashioned, artisan techniques, and was not immersed in petrochemicals or hosed down with any sort of nuclear waste.

Now if you see a food label that claims the contents are organic, what is required for that product to qualify for that label is precisely defined by statute, but probably does not mean what the casual customer thinks it means.

It is a sham intended to make the customer think he or she is getting something they are not.

To get through all the red tape required to qualify for organic labeling requires resources that are not available to small-scale producers, absolutely including the willingness to wade through all that bureaucracy.

If you imagine organic food, I bet the image you conjure up is of items that do not even have labels.

For someone who cares where his or her food comes from, the only sure way to know is to raise it your self or get it directly from the producer. This would have to be a producer who has shown you the details of production, or at least earned your trust.

Agribusiness can’t do this. What they can do is come up with whatever sort of marketing drive that folks seem to like.

That’s what organic labeling is.


Scott Holtzman said...

"To get through all the red tape required to qualify for organic labeling requires resources that are not available to small-scale producers, absolutely including the willingness to wade through all that bureaucracy."

Such is the trouble with bureaucracy it stinks worse than chicken poo & you can not compost it.

Chicken Mama said...

I am so excited to find your blog! I have only read a few postings so far, but I can see you share our love of farming. Can't wait to read the rest. We have a blog about our farming (mis)adventures also. It's on wordpress, called the Farm Chronicles. You can get there from too.

We've had a couple rounds of processing our own birds, but I am looking forward to seeing your video clip of how you did it (need a faster computer, though).

We presently have 50+ chickens and a few turkey poults, but hope to get sheep, goats, cattle, and hogs once our fences are all repaired.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I'll pass the word along about your blog.