A national organic egg survey by the Cornucopia Institute revealed some interesting facts about two leading organic egg products; Organic Valley eggs and Vital Farms.
The rating is in Egg Star Ratings, where 5 eggs mean ‘Exemplary—Beyond Organic’ and “1” means ‘Ethically Deficient’, as many factors come to play in making the scorecard criteria.
ORGANIC VALLEY Eggs
- Farmer-owned co-op.
- Company requires 5 sq ft/hen except at Judy’s Farm & Bushman farm (for some strange reason?).
- Company only markets organic but some farms produce non-organic eggs (ex. Judy’s).
- Organic certifier: Oregon Tilth.
- Cornucopia Institute Score: 2 Eggs, (Fair)¹
- Points: 1505 (out of 2700).
- Some farmers grow their own feed, others do not.
- Some feed ingredients grown/milled outside of US.
- Disclosure rate: refused to fill out survey (some transparency on website)².
VITAL FARMS Eggs
- Private corp. that produces some eggs & buys from other farmer.
- 108 sq ft/hen.
- Sell organic & non-organic cage free from split operations.
- Organic certifier: NICS.
- Cornucopia Institute Score: 4 Eggs, (Excellent).
- Points: 2240 (out of 2700).
- No feed produced on farms but birds acquire some of diet from pasture.
- Work with a large range of domestic feed mills but can’t be 100% certain.
- Disclosure rate: full disclosure.
Organic Valley’s Overall Rating: “2” eggs – Fair
Organic Valley received a limited number of points in terms of its approach to transparency. Due to some past ethical lapses by management, discovered and publicized by The Cornucopia Institute, the company was not willing to participate in this study. Since it very well could represent the largest name brand in the industry, it was important for the Institute to do additional research in preparing this report so that Organic Valley could be included. Organic Valley is a farmer-owned cooperative that primarily produces dairy products. It is highly rated in the organic dairy study but has lost points in recent years due to its unwillingness to continue releasing information.
It has been the farmers who have been open about their management and production practices and have shared the standards that the cooperative uses to manage production.
The Institute did discover, however, that one of Organic Valley’s “members” supplying organic eggs is actually an industrial-scale farm in Northern California that grants no outdoor access to the laying hens. The operation, described in Organic Valley literature as “Stephen Judy’s Egg Farm” is in fact Petaluma Farms a large, vertically-integrated agricultural enterprise based in Petaluma, California. Scores given to Organic Valley on this scorecard therefore factor in the cooperative’s high standards, for their family-scale members, and the fact that it also markets eggs from hens with no outdoor access, as well as the unfortunate reality that its management has attempted to mislead its customers, and even their farmer-members (with rhetoric on its website and packaging) and has refused to be open and transparent about its practices, unlike so many of its competitors.
Vital Farms’ Overall Rating: “4” eggs – Excellent
Vital Farms has an excellent rating in terms of 28 scoring criterion. This brand provides “Enhanced Outdoor Access” to their birds. Their hens live in housing surrounded by a generous amount of outdoor space which they have access to.
Incidentally, most major stores’ organic egg brands got a “1” egg rating* including Alta Dena, Horizon Organic, Land O’Lakes, 365 Organic, O Organics (Vons, Pavilions), Simple Truth (Kroger, Ralph’s), Trader Joe’s, Hidden Villa Ranch, Sprouts Market, Harvest Farms Organic, Wild Harvest, Chino Valley Ranchers, Naturally Organic, Farmer’s Hen, and Shoprite to name a few. The Country Hen got a “2” egg” rating, Pete and Gerry’s (Vons, Pavilions, Albertson’s) got a “3” egg” rating.
*1-egg Rating (Name Brand) 0-1000: “ethically deficient – industrial organics/no meaningful outdoor access and/or none were open enough to participate. One-egg Rating (Private Label 0-1000
¹ In 2008, Cornucopia discovered that although Organic Valley maintains high standards for its family-scale farmers, who produce the lion share of the cooperative’s organic milk, it had, for well over a year, been purchasing from a 7,200-cow factory farm in Texas. The industrial dairy in Texas, that has now grown to approximately 9000 cows, appears to have violated a number of fundamental standards that the co-op stated were in force for all their dairy producers. It was announced that purchases from this dairy were quickly discontinued after Cornucopia brought its concerns to the farmers who own and oversee the cooperative.
² The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit organization “seeking economic justice for the family-scale farming community,” has published a number of reports to help consumers see the business behind the food, and the actual quality of what they are buying. Vital Farms and Organic Valley are both included in their updated “Organic Egg Scorecard”.
Source: Cornucopia Institute
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