USDA Plans to Side With 'Fake Organic' Egg Producers, Ditch Animal Welfare Rule
By Katherine Paul and Alexis Baden-Mayer
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Rule was the result of a 14-year effort by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to tighten up animal welfare rules for organic egg producers.
The OLPP was set to be enacted in January 2017. But under the incoming Trump administration's regulatory freeze, the rule was delayed multiple times. Now the USDA wants to throw it out completely.
If the OLPP is thrown out, "fake organic" egg producers will get to keep their production costs low. This will allow them to continue underselling smaller organic producers who follow the rules. At the same time, they capture a big share of the organic egg market by selling their eggs under the USDA Organic seal.
In other words, it's a great way to feather their nests.
These practices not only make it more difficult for smaller organic egg farmers to compete, they also cheat consumers who believe certified organic means higher animal welfare standards. Instead consumers are unknowingly buying eggs from producers who run nothing more than industrial-scale operations indistinguishable from factory farms apart from the type of feed they use. The result are eggs of inferior nutritional quality. (Studies show that authentic certified organic eggs have a deeper yoke color which translates into higher levels of Vitamin A, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and beta carotene).
Better nutrition and better animal welfare standards aren't the only benefit for consumers who buy authentic certified organic eggs. Organic eggs produced by ethical farms where hens have real access to pasture, including organic regenerative poultry systems, have far less impact on the environment than those that come from factory farm-type egg operations that pollute with impunity.
Who are the "Big Organic" egg producers? Cal-Maine Foods and Herbruck's, which was the subject of a Washington Post exposé last year. Herbruck's sells some of its eggs under the Eggland's Best brand. But the bulk of the eggs sold by these producers end up on store shelves under private label (store brand) names.
In fact, most retail grocery chains that sell "organic" eggs under their own label (think Aldi's Simply Nature, Whole Foods 365 Organic, Trader Joe's, Kroger Simple Truth, Costco, Walmart, etc.) get their eggs from huge factory farm-type operations that routinely violate USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules.
Lobbyists for the Cal-Maine and Herbruck's claim they'll have to get out of the organic market if the new OLPP rule is allowed to stand. Christopher Nichols, third-generation egg farmer in California told the Los Angeles Times that's bunk:
"Don't let them fool you. They knew darn well that they were building these buildings out of compliance. And they knew that when this day came, that they were going to have to face this decision. But they probably figured that they had the money and the political muscle to overrule it."
Smaller producers, Nichols told the LA Times, "just don't have that."
Is there still time to keep the USDA from scuttling the new rule? Maybe.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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