Local Eggs Best Defense Against Avian Flu

eggs.jpgBack in the '70s the American Egg Board touted “The Incredible Edible Egg” as a protein-packed part of a healthy diet. Then in the '90s, eggs were considered  cholesterol packed time bombs waiting to clog your arteries at any given time. Fact is, eggs have been consumed by people since 600 BC and really are considered a staple food the world over. This being said, when highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 strikes, threatening egg production and in turn egg prices, it’s a big deal. The hard boiled fact is that Americans consume approximately 79,360,000,000 each year which amounts to 1 billion dollars annually. Suffice it to say, we do love our eggs.  

Now it’s not just your morning omelet that is in danger, but your toast and maybe that morning donut you have with your coffee. You see, food manufacturers are heavily affected as well and to meet their production demands we are importing eggs from the Netherlands. And the 30 million eggs that we export each year? We won’t go there. This is a BIG deal, economically and gastronomically!

So what’s an egg lover to do when the grocery store says “No eggs for you!” or you’re just not willing to pay the going price of a dozen eggs, currently $2.69 at last check? You do what you should have been doing all along, look local.  The Pennsylvania Agriculture Department has already taken steps to ensure Pennsylvania factory farms remains flu free, but your local farmer has been doing this as a best practice since forever.

This afternoon a post popped up in my Facebook news feed from Todd Hedrick, owner of Hedrick Family Farms and Produce in New Tripoli, about the availability of pasture raised, hormone free eggs at the usual price of  $2.50 per dozen. I was excited, and about to put as many eggs in one basket that I could.

So I dropped Todd a note for some insight on the current situation and he was a lot of help.

I asked Todd why this is happening to large producers and not smaller farms. He explained Factory farms that raise livestock in confinement house don't care for the animals the way that smaller family farms do. This causes many healthy issues. Clean farming practices prevent disease, however nothing is fool proof”. 

Thus far, the 2015 outbreak of avian influenza (HPAI) H5 has cost the industry in excess of $410 million, according to U.S Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack. The flu has caused the death of 33 million birds across 16 states, 4 of which have declared a state of emergency.

So if the cost of eggs isn’t enough to keep you from the local supermarket, consider this. When you buy local you can ask question, get to know your farmer and your food. When I asked Todd about the best practices used on his farm, he told me this:

 “Our egg layers are on pasture daily. Meaning they free range during the day, then are secured in coops for the night. This gives them fresh grass, grubs, insects, feed daily while getting good exercise then the security of the coop overnight.” He added that, “Disease is possible anywhere and on anything. However minimalizing the area for bad bacteria to grow is crucial. In our coops we add carbon to the soil to remove the ammonia released from chicken manure. This eliminates odors and promotes healthy living for the birds.”

All these careful considerations make a difference not only in the health of the birds but in the final product. “A fresh egg that is less than 24 hours old is fuller, brighter, healthier, and has much more taste. Plus, as an egg sits it loses nutrients, so a fresh egg is better” is the claim Hedrick makes

Availability, eggcellent taste and nutrition and value are eggactly the reasons why you should buy from your local farmer.  All eggie puns aside, by supporting our local farmers we stimulate our local economy and give ourselves the best possible food at the best possible prices.  Don’t be scrambling for eggs this week, stop by a farm or farmers market for a fresh dozen and enjoy!

                                                                                                                                  - Diana

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