In an interesting followup to this summer’s story about massive egg recalls, the NY Times takes a look inside some of the more modern egg plants and the methods they’re employing to manage manure. The conveyor belt system sounds fascinating, and I imagine it saves an enormous amount of labor. It also seems to keep the facility much cleaner.
But this is the quote that struck me:
“We’ve had to completely change the way we look at things,” said Mr. Krouse, who is also chairman of the United Egg Producers, an industry association. “Thirty years ago, farms had flies and farms had mice, everything was exposed to everything else. They just all happily lived together. You can’t work that way anymore.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a fan of flies or mice or any other vermin. What bothers me is the industrial scale of these operations, and the necessarily attendant obsessiveness with making them “sanitary.” If you’re going to have 381,000 hens living under one roof in a concentration camp eggery, you can’t have everything exposed to everything else. You must compartmentalize, and obsess about sanitation. Otherwise, you quickly lose control.
But the problem with emphasizing the sanitation strikes me as possibly designed to convince the public that “that makes it okay” to produce eggs in this way. Sure, we have 381,000 hens under one roof. Yeah, they’re crammed into little cages. No, they don’t ever see the light of day. But we have some really great manure removal systems, and the eggs are really really clean. And the hens get vaccinated against all the diseases you’d expect them to catch while living in this kind of environment. So, eat up! Nothing to see here.
As for the Yeoman farm family, we’ll take the “messy” eggs laid by hens happily living together with the ducks and the geese and the sheep and the goats. The eggs that sometimes get manure on them, and that we have to wash. The eggs laid by hens that keep the barn mouse-free because any time one appears, they gang tackle it and use it as supplemental protein for their diet. As they do with the flies and the crickets and even frogs.
You can get away with that kind of “messiness” when you’re farming on a small scale. On a human scale. Producing outstanding food for humans who appreciate it.