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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

The real price of "cheap" food!

Published 08/20/10
By Susan Trout, Program Assistant

With the egg recall continuing to expand — some updated (Aug. 23) reports say 550 million eggs have been recalled in several states due to a salmonella threat — shocking facts about one of the main egg producers are now being brought to light. We’ve learned that Jack DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa, has had run-ins with regulators over poor or unsafe working conditions, environmental violations, harassment of workers, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.

In 1997, one of his companies agreed to pay a $2 million fine imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for violations in the workplace and worker housing. Officials said workers were forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in trailers infested with rats. Robert B. Reich, the U.S. labor secretary at that time, called DeCoster’s operation “an agricultural sweatshop.”

The average cost of a dozen eggs here in California is about $2.10. Ask yourself: Who really bears the costs of producing eggs, and meat, at such artificially low prices? Not the producer. Not the consumer. It is frequently the workers, and almost always the animals themselves, who bear the costs of mass production to satisfy a nearly unsustainable appetite for “cheap” food. Laying chickens endure about the most miserable existence of any food animal on the planet. The majority are still kept in tiny cages (sometimes four birds to a cage) where they cannot flap their wings, lay down comfortably or even turn around. They are treated simply as production “units” — inanimate objects created simply to crank out one egg after another until their little bodies are so depleted they cannot produce any longer. They are generally sent to slaughter at between 12 and 24 months of age.

The unrelenting drive for cheap food has gone from an experiment to a potentially catastrophic gamble. What are the stakes? Our health and the environment! As disturbing as it sounds, not one of our government officials currently charged with overseeing agriculture and the environment is brave enough to suggest the obvious fix: Slow down our intensive food production, treat the land and animals with more respect, produce less and higher-quality food, and do so more humanely!

Without huge government subsidies (that’s you and me!), these animal factories could not operate profitably and provide “cheap” food. Someone pays the hidden costs and it’s not the factory farm or the consumer — it’s the voiceless animals who are forced to suffer every single day of their short, miserable lives.

While vegetarians and vegans make up only a small percentage of our population, it is time that every consumer understand what’s involved in the food he/she consumes. Is eating meat three times a day sustainable? Is consuming large quantities of eggs that barely reflect the true price of production realistic? Everything has a price and our ever-growing and voraciously consuming population is now faced with the reality of what mass production is doing to the food we eat.

The significant costs of mass food recalls, and the expenses involved in treating people sickened by diseases born from intensely confined animals, needs to be factored into food production costs. This month's egg recall is not an isolated incident. Food scares and recalls will continue to happen as long as we refuse to take responsibility for the food we eat. There is no such thing as a “free” lunch, and what appears to be cheap and plentiful food is shockingly deceptive when you look closely at the big picture.

Now for some positive news! Visit our fffashion contest results and see what happens when the desire for sustainable and cruelty-free living is the driving force behind some cool fashion designers.

--Susan

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