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Vital Farms Earns Coveted “5 Egg” Rating from Cornucopia Institute

CORNUCOPIA, WI — The Cornucopia Institute, the leading proponent of ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food issued a 64 page independent report today that focuses on widespread abuses in organic egg production, primarily by large industrial agribusinesses. The study also profiles the exemplary management practices employed by many family-scale organic farmers engaged in egg production, including Vital Farms, while spotlighting abuses at so-called factory farms.  In many cases hundreds of thousands of chickens are confined in industrial facilities, and these eggs are then represented to consumers as “organic.”

The report will be formally presented to the US Department of Agriculture at the October meeting of the National Organic Standards Board in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, developed the report, Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture, following nearly two years of research into organic egg production. The report also contains a scorecard rating various egg brands on how their eggs are produced in accordance with federal organic standards and consumer expectations.

The Organic Egg Scorecard’s top rating is “5 Eggs”.  Vital Farms received this “Exemplary” distinction from Cornucopia Institute:

“At Vital Farms we consider our girls (hens) to be our most important partner in producing the highest quality food”, said Jason Jones, Vital Farms’ President.  “Giving them plenty of room to forage, roam, and simply act like the birds they are is the least we can do.  We are extremely pleased that Cornucopia recognizes our efforts and the work of other ethical egg farmers throughout the US”.

According to Mark A. Kastel, The Cornucopia Institute’s co-director and senior farm policy analyst, “After visiting over 15% of the certified egg farms in the United States, and surveying all name-brand and private-label industry marketers, it’s obvious that a high percentage of the eggs on the market should be labeled ‘produced with organic feed’ rather than bearing the USDA-certified organic logo”.

The report points out that many of the giant factory farmed organic eggs are produced in giant henhouses, some holding 85,000 birds or more, provide no legitimate access to the outdoors, as required in the federal organic regulations.

“Many of these operators are gaming the system by providing minute enclosed porches, with roofs and concrete or wood flooring, and calling these structures ‘the outdoors,’” stated Charlotte Vallaeys, a farm policy analyst with Cornucopia and lead author of the report. “Many of the porches represent just 3 to 5 percent of the square footage of the main building housing the birds. That means 95 percent or more of the birds have absolutely no access whatsoever.”

Cornucopia has filed legal complaints against several poultry companies that either offer their birds no access to the outdoors or “faux” outdoor access—very small enclosed porches. A copy of the complaint can be seen here:

“An important subset of organic farmers are even going far beyond the minimum requirements in the organic standards: not just providing access to the outdoors but rotating birds on high-quality pasture,” affirmed Vallaeys.

chickens in a field
Birds on pasture at Vital Farms Austin

Laying hens on pasture-based farms tend to be under less stress—based on their greater opportunity to exercise and ability to engage in instinctive foraging behaviors that cuts down on aggression toward their flock mates.

Organic customers are also becoming increasingly aware of a growing body of scientific literature confirming the nutritional superiority of eggs when the birds have an opportunity to eat fresh forage, seeds, worms and insects.

“Scrambled Eggs” and the organic egg brand scorecard can be viewed here:

“Just as with our dairy brand scorecard, our goal is to empower consumers and wholesale buyers with information to make good, discerning purchasing decisions—rewarding the heroes and sending a strong message to the bad actors,” Kastel stated.

“These giant ‘factory farms,’ or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), generally produce eggs from caged birds, but they have diversified, depending on which way the marketing winds blow, to cage-free, vegetarian, omega-3 and the organic label,” Kastel added.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding to know where their food comes from, and the conditions under which items like eggs are produced,” Jones goes on to say.  “The lifestyle of the animals like laying hens matters.  We appreciate Cornucopia for increasing the transparency of organic farming in an independent way.”