October 24, 2006

you have GOT to be kidding me...

We try to buy our food responsibly, supporting organic and sustainably grown products from local producers when possible (although admittedly, we could make a more concerted effort). One of the products we really enjoy is the "Rosie" line of chickens from Petaluma Poultry. Rosie is their certified organic, free range chicken. As the company describes the product on their website:
Rosie was the first chicken in the United States to carry a certified organic label. Rosie's diet consists of 100% certified organic corn and soybean grown on soil that has been free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers for at least three years. Petaluma Poultry raises Rosie in accordance with the organic protocols independently verified by Oregon Tilth, a third party certifier. Oregon Tilth visits the poultry houses, feed mill and processing plant to confirm that organic practices are followed at all times. We maintain a rigorous audit trail documenting the hatching, growing, processing and distribution of each bird. Dick Krengel, President of Willowbrook Feed, says "We can trace a box of Rosies from our delivery truck all the way back to the field where their organic feed was grown." Rosie is a free range chicken, allowed to run and forage outdoors in an open-air, fenced area outside the barn. At market, Rosie's weight averages 4 pounds.
Petaluma Poultry "strive[s] to create harmonious relationships in nature sustaining the health of all creatures and the natural world." Sure, it costs quite a bit more, but you feel like you're doing something better for the environment, better for the chicken, and better for your health, right?

As it turns out, maybe not.

Right now, I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan... his observations on the connection between overproduction and overconsumption to resource depletion, reduced biodiversity, disease and economic hardship are flat-out freaky. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through, but it's definitely a good read for anyone who cares about the food they eat and the overall impact our ridiculous aggregate consumption patterns are making. Anyways, on the BART ride to work this morning, I read the following excerpt on page 140:
I also visited Rosie the organic chicken at her farm in Petaluma, which turns out to be more animal factory than farm. She lives in a shed with twenty thousand other Rosies, who, aside from their certified organic feed, live lives little different from that of any other industrial chicken. Ah, but what about the "free range" lifestyle promised on the label? True, there's a little door in the shed leading out to a narrow grassy yard. But the free-range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old -- for fear they'll catch something outside -- and the chickens are slaughtered only two weeks later .
No freakin' way. Rosie's a fraud?

Okay, I know that not all "organic" products are equal, with some of the mass produced brands abusing the use of the word in the name of capitalistic marketing with shameless, unregulated abandon, but man, I thought Petaluma Farms was one of the good guys! I'm going to withhold judgment for the moment while I do some research and dig a bit deeper to find out who's closer to the truth. Stay tuned...

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