In order to translate our classroom studies of Environmental Engagement into real-world ‘engagement,’ and what that actually looks like, we went on a two day trip through various areas of Northwest Oregon, ranging from Mount Hood National Forest regions to the Willamette Valley and prominent farming regions. In doing so, we met with various organizations and other parties invested in the [environmental] prosperity of their regions, each for very different reasons. From the importance of salmon population restoration for cultural meaning, to farmers rights working in fields near dangerous pesticides (see PCUN for more information), to farmers trying to stay afloat in an ever-changing industry (see Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival for more information), this trip tried to encompass that of all sides for proper collaborative engagement.
On day two, we visited Willamette Egg Farms, a large, corporate producer of eggs, to begin to understand how corporate entities identify, for better or worse, in environmental controversies, and what drives these mass productions provided by corporations. Willamette Egg Farms (WEF) represents a corporate example of large scale farming. Being owned by Michael Foods, WEF has attempted to retain their own identity by keeping their own branding as well as maintaining their previous values. WEF produces shell eggs as well as liquid eggs for everyone — from everyday consumers to organizations like Starbucks.
We are committed to providing excellent hen care and producing the finest quality eggs for years to come.Willamette Egg Farms
Understanding Motivations in Mass Production
Visiting the WEF and hearing from Emily Battilega, the operations manager for all its facilities, provided insightful information as to what drives egg production, as well as food production, at large. As explained by her, consumer demand drives production. What people want, people get, and companies like Willamette Egg Farms will try to provide what is demanded. That being said, products that don’t meet this demand, and help fulfill consumer wants, aren’t going to be the focus. As a company, they want to prosper economically. By providing consumers with what they want, and in the cheapest way possible, they can achieve the maximum benefit for all – supposedly.
In order to achieve this, the company has created ‘innovative ways’ to ‘create’ specific eggs that meet and agree with current stigmas and widespread beliefs. One stigma is that “brown eggs are nutritionally richer than white eggs,” even though the nutritional differences between the two are slight, if at all. Another important controversy mentioned by Battilega was that ‘cage-free’ is better for chickens than ‘caged’, but that isn’t necessarily the case. As consumers, we “vote with our pocketbooks”, meaning that the industry we have today, and all it provides, has resulted largely from our consumption choices. Ultimately, her breakdown summates that we have created an industry where we have mass production of cage-free brown eggs and caged white eggs, thus comes the dilemma.
To elaborate slightly on the caged versus cage-free dilemma, we found that we were being convinced towards supporting caged white eggs, with examples of chicken vs chicken aggression being given as a reason that cage-free wasn’t the favorable option. Within the caged vs cage-free dilemma, there is a current lack of engagement among the parties that could create more opportunities to engage across differences. Currently, legislative action is taking place (and has been taking place for years) regarding the ‘rights of chickens’ by promoting, and finally requiring, cage-free chicken rearing. However, with the current lack of engagement, there is a lack of regulation and representation regarding what cage-free means, and how we will go about implementing this new regulation, thus raising the question: is that actually fighting for the rights of chickens. Following things through to the end, and finding all inlets and outlets of truth and investment are necessary in order to find a solution that can benefit all (in this case, all industries, consumers, producers, investors, chickens, etc).
The large processed farming which Battilega works with may not be a choice, it may be the only option a consumer has. Can a college student, or really the general population as a whole afford to buy a better egg? At Fred Meyer (a Kroger Brand) you can buy your simple eggs for as cheap as $1.99 per dozen making an egg as cheap as 17 cents. If you want to upgrade to a ‘better’ raised cage-free egg, you see a price increase of 80 cents a dozen, or 24 cents per egg. As we know cage-free does not necessarily mean better, so now you look to buy a free-range egg which will cost you 42 cents per egg. If you wish to receive the best quality and get a pasture-raised egg like the ones you may think of when you close your eyes and picture a farm, you’ll be looking at a $7.99 dozen, or 67 cents per egg, 50 cents more than your basic economic egg (Fred Meyer, 2019). Can we, as consumers, even make a decision to eat a different type of egg? The difference could be about $5 a week or $20 each month.
Conscious consumerism means that every purchase you make you are taking an opportunity to vote with your wallet. In this case, it is on how the chicken which lays your egg is raised. As Emily pointed out regularly, this is how the company can make decisions on what kinds of eggs to produce. Battilega has not accounted for the unequal consumer. This is for two reasons. First, not every consumer has equal spending power in the market. This means that many young adults like ourselves that may want to vote with their consumption choices do not have that opportunity to do so because of financial limitations. Secondly, consumers are not always informed correctly or have the time to research the products on the market. The sustainable movement has been criticized for it’s ‘elitism’ (Wicker, 2017). To be able to properly spend your money and use your consumer votes requires money as well as time to inform yourself about the products that you choose to support. These exemplify areas that need to be further evaluated in order to truly understand how the food market affects environmentalism.
Connecting These Ideas To College Courses
In Jessica Kleiss’s ENVS 220 class —Environmental Analysis— a section of readings was dedicated to the process of evaluation. The articles highlighted the importance of tracking the effectiveness of policy and development progress. Specifically, Yonglong Lu addresses the importance of devising a system of goal evaluation. They write that regulators “should help to choose criteria… against which progress towards the goals is judged, based on accepted principles of good practice or governance” (Lu 2015). This facet of policy is something in which the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon Farms, and the American Humane Association must work together to implement. Senate Bill 805 —which aims to transition “commercial egg farms in Oregon to the use of larger cages and enriched colony systems that may include cage-free production systems”— is a great example of poor evaluation. The bill that was signed into law on June 17, 2011, presented practically no measure of how “caged-free” was to be evaluated. Aside from the ambiguous description of “larger cages,” there is no strict definition of what this senate bill is truly calling for. Examples like SB 805 demonstrate the importance of constructing a system of criteria and evaluation. As Yonglong Lu would agree, this requires engagement with regulators, producers, and consumers.
In order to engage efficiently with regulators, producers, and consumers, as well as the field of environmental studies as a whole, one must understand classic and contemporary thought. A large portion of ENVS 160 was dedicated to understanding and applying two different kinds of environmental thought, Classic and Contemporary. Classic environmental thought is a more generalized perspective that states hard facts behind environmental problems such as biodiversity loss or climate change. Because of its blunt nature and the current state of our planet, oftentimes, classic thought promotes a seemingly apocalyptic view of environmental problems. On the contrary, Contemporary environmental thought employs a mindset that is not so easily categorizable. Contemporary thought acknowledges the complexity of environmental science and suggests that there is much more at play than what classic thought tends to preach. While classic thought is still important and alive and well, Environmentalists that support Contemporary thought feel that over-generalization only limits our ability to learn and develop solutions for environmental problems. Classic and contemporary thought can be seen in parallel with the relationship between the public and the eggs which they choose to consume.
It is a common belief that chickens that are hatched and raised in captivity are less healthy and happy than those who are raised free-range. This belief is pretty generalized and broad: “Cages/captivity is bad for chickens”. Chicken farms that raise their hens in buildings or man-made structures are inhumane and outright cruel. This ideology can be seen in parallel with classic environmental thought because people are making this assumption based on an overgeneralized claim when really it is more complicated than previously thought.
According to Emily Battilega, the spokesperson of Willamette Egg Farms, the public view on cage-free vs. non-cage free eggs is based on over-generalized information. For example, most of the general public believe that chickens are healthier when not bred in captivity when from a contemporary perspective the chickens at Willamette egg farms were in fact much healthier and happier than chickens that would be found at free-range farms, even though they were confined to an industrial building. Emily presented the contemporary mindset that there is more at play here than a bunch of unhappy chickens that are negatively affected by living inside rather than free-range. In fact, the chickens that are raised in captivity are free of diseases from outside causing free-range chickens to die at a much higher rate than the chickens at Willamette Egg Farms (Battilega).
The difficulty which WEF and other egg farms have been facing in regards to these imposed regulations is that there is very little communication between all of the stakeholders involved in the transition to cage-free holding process. This lack of communication means that crucial conversations about what cage-free holding should/will actually entail aren’t happening. In her presentation, Battilega stated that, although WEF has been practicing cage-free atrium-style rearing for around ten years now, most other farms lack the expertise which WEF has to effectively execute cage-free rearing. Without these conversations and supportive business relationships in place in the egg industry, the consequences for chickens rearing could be disastrous. There needs to be some kind of platform for egg farms to share their questions about cage-free rearing and some way for the regulations to match what both producers and consumers feel comfortable with. In the case of WEF there is a huge possibility for engagement through discussion holding, and using the solutions generated in those discussions to provide answers about the cage-free holding style.
Willamette Egg Farms (WEF) is an example of a large scale corporate farm that aims to produce affordable eggs without sacrificing their core values. It is clear that consumer demand drives production and that the demand for eggs is high. So how does a corporation produce eggs without hurting the chickens but while also running an economically sound business? Chickens are often treated poorly and subjected to poor living conditions in order to boost egg production. According to Emily Battilega, WEF prides itself not only on their ability to produce massive quantities of eggs at an affordable price but for their ability to upkeep healthy and “happy clucking” chickens. The types of eggs the public chooses to buy is largely dependent on whether or not it’s non-cage free or cage-free. With the current lack of engagement, most of the general public is misinformed on what cage-free means and how we interpret the effects of other styles of chicken farming such as free-roam or non-cage free. Proper engagement requires that we understand and apply concepts we explored in classes like ENVS 160 and ENVS 220 in order to better understand the relationship between people and their eggs. ENVS 160 puts emphasis on the idea that proper engagement is only achieved when one understands Classic and Contemporary thought. Through the application of classic and contemporary thought, we can take a more informed approach to environmental issues because while we can observe the more generalized perspectives towards the state of our environment, we can simultaneously acknowledge a more detailed perspective and utilize the strengths of both when combating environmental issues. ENVS 220 gives insight on the importance of devising a system of goal evaluation to better analyze environmental situations such as the differences and complications of the cage-free vs. non-cage free eggs. Proper engagement entails that we take information from a broad spectrum of perspectives in order to truly understand the relationship between people and the eggs they choose to consume.
- Battilega, Emily. “Willamette Egg Farms.” Egg Production. Woodburn, Oregon, February 1, 2020.
- “Fred Meyer – Department” Eggs. https://www.fredmeyer.com/pl/all/00?query=eggs&searchType=natural
- Lu, Yonglong, Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Martin Visbeck, and Anne-Sophie Stevance. “Policy: Five Priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” Nature 520, no. 7548 (April 20, 2015): 432–33. https://doi.org/10.1038/520432a.
- Wicker, Alden. “Conscious Consumer Is a Lie. Here’s a Better Way to Help Save the World.” Quartz. March 7, 2017. https://qz.com/920561/conscious-consumerism-is-a-lie-heres-a-better-way-to-help-save-the-world/
- WillametteEgg (2011). Join us on a tour of our Canby, Oregon egg farm. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6iUN1mBzd0.
- “Willamette Egg Farms of Oregon | Farm Fresh Organic, Cage-Free Eggs.” 2012. http://www.willametteegg.com.s3-website-us-west-2.amazonaws.com.