Originally published: Health Impact News
People with allergies to soy protein now have one less source for purchasing soy-free eggs. Two small-scale farmers in Wisconsin have been informed by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture that they must stop selling their soy-free and GMO-tested eggs to consumers until they meet state government regulations for shipping eggs that they allege the farmers are violating. They have been shipping their eggs directly to the homes of customers throughout the United States since the beginning of 2010.
In letters dated, March 13, 2017, the State of Wisconsin sent two farmers who are part of the Wisconsin Pasturelands Cooperative a Cease and Desist order regarding their eggs. The two farmers were informed that they were selling eggs and shipping them to consumers without proper refrigeration during shipping. They were specifically instructed that until this situation is corrected, “you shall not hold, process, package or sell the eggs for human consumption from your home or any other location.” (Source.)
The farmer cooperative run by Amish in rural Wisconsin since 2010 has been working together with an Internet business, Tropical Traditions (now Healthy Traditions), to market their eggs from cage-free chickens fed a specially developed feed that contains no soy, no corn, and ingredients that are tested to be free of GMOs and the herbicide glyphosate.
They are believed to be one of the first ones in the U.S. to offer eggs from chickens on a soy-free diet. The eggs were marketed under the Grass-fed Traditions brand, which is now part of the Healthy Traditions product line offering alternatives to commodity food. Healthy Traditions tests their products for the presence of GMOs and the herbicide glyphosate.
While the State of Wisconsin is claiming that the farmers are violating regulations for the refrigerated transportation of eggs, there is no indication that these regulations apply to consumers transporting their own eggs, whether they are transporting the eggs themselves directly from the farm, or paying someone else to ship them on their behalf.
Do Eggs Purchased by Consumers Need to be Shipped Refrigerated After Purchase?
When the Wisconsin Pasturelands Cooperative began producing their soy-free eggs in 2009, they consulted with local officials working with the USDA. They were told that there were no regulations in place directing consumers to transport their eggs refrigerated and that current regulations for transporting eggs were in place for large commercial egg operations for transporting their eggs to retail establishments. The Wisconsin Amish farmers constructed insulated ice houses to ensure that the eggs were always stored in temperatures below 45 degrees prior to shipping them to the consumers, in compliance with state regulations.
When Tropical Traditions offered the eggs online, they offered the consumers a choice of shipping options to have the farmers ship the eggs directly to them from the farm, including overnight shipment. They were informed before purchasing that the eggs were shipped unrefrigerated:
These eggs are not graded and will vary in size. They are shipped to you directly from the farm. The farmers are part of Wisconsin Pastureland. Tropical Traditions provides the payment service for you to purchase these eggs directly from the farmer, and delivery is provided to you via a national transportation company such as FedEx or UPS which you will choose at check out. Eggs are shipped unrefrigerated. Contact us for alternative delivery options if you need refrigerated shipping.
It has been well-documented that if eggs are not produced in “factory farms” where chickens are kept in small cages, that there is no need to refrigerate them. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that requires eggs to be sold refrigerated. Most of Europe, in contrast, sells eggs at room temperature.
If you’re an American, you probably store eggs in the refrigerator – and wouldn’t think of doing it any other way.
Yet, the US is one of the only countries where chicken eggs are kept refrigerated. In much of Europe, for instance, eggs are often stored right on the counter, at room temperature.
But then, US eggs would be illegal in Europe due to an egg-washing process that may actually make them more susceptible to contamination with bacteria like Salmonella.
When you have eggs from tens of thousands of chickens – or more — all under one roof, there’s a good chance they’re going to get feces and other contaminants on them. The US solution, rather than reducing the size of the flocks and ensuring better sanitation and access to the outdoors, is to wash the eggs. But this isn’t as innocuous as it sounds.
As the eggs are scrubbed, rinsed, dried, and spritzed with a chlorine mist, its protective cuticle may be compromised. This is a natural barrier that comes from the mother hen that lays the egg, and it acts as a shield against bacteria.
It even contains antimicrobial properties. US egg-washing strips this natural protectant from the egg, which may actually make it more likely to become contaminated. According to European Union (EU) guidelines:
“Such damage may favor trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers, particularly if subsequent drying and storage conditions are not optimal.”
Industrial egg washing, by the way, is banned in much of Europe, not only because of potential damage to the eggs’ cuticles but also because it might allow for more “sloppy” egg-producing practices.
The chief executive of Britain’s Egg Industry Council told Forbes:
“In Europe, the understanding is that [prohibiting the washing and cleaning of eggs] actually encourages good husbandry on farms. It’s in the farmers’ best interests then to produce the cleanest eggs possible, as no one is going to buy their eggs if they’re dirty.” (See: Americans – Why Do You Keep Refrigerating Your Eggs?)
The farmers in the Wisconsin Pasturelands Cooperative have very small flocks that are free range, and they did not wash the eggs prior to storage. Just before shipping the eggs to the consumer, they used a coconut water vinegar solution to wash the eggs and then coated them with coconut oil just prior to shipment.
Is California Department of Food and Agriculture Behind Demands to Stop Selling Wisconsin Eggs to Protect the Commercial California Egg Industry?
In 2012 “Egg Safety Quality Management Central District Supervisor” John Ramos of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) attempted to stop the shipment of eggs from the Wisconsin Pasturelands Cooperative into California.
CDFA had somehow obtained a box of eggs from a FedEx facility that was being shipped to a Tropical Traditions customer.
Mr. Ramos sent a letter to Tropical Traditions demanding that they immediately stop selling eggs in California, stating that the package they found in the FedEx facility was not refrigerated properly. It should be noted that this action was taken after seizing a package in a FedEx facility en route to a customer, not because of any customer complaint about the eggs. He stated:
I received information (sic) from one of our Stanislaus County Inspector who was at a Fed-Express office. He noticed a package being delivered from your company. The pictures he sent me where that of the egg carton you are using to package your eggs. There are several violations on the container:
1. No Plant number
2. No sell by date
3. No size or grade “not graded” is not acceptable.
In addition you are not allowed to ship non refrigerated eggs to consumers. (45 degrees F)
In his correspondence, Mr. Ramos asked:
Are you a registered egg handler?
Where are the eggs being packed?
How long have you been selling eggs?
Also is there a physical address for the Springville, CA location?
I will be in the Springville area tomorrow doing some inspections.
Tropical Traditions simply maintains a Springville, California address for handling mail orders. So when Mr. Ramos showed up at the local post office in Springville, he reportedly flashed his badge and intimidated postal workers into giving him the personal residence address of one of Tropical Traditions’ managers.
He allegedly showed up at the manager’s personal residence and demanded to see the egg operation. Seeing that there was obviously no egg farm on his property, the manager reportedly informed the inspector that the egg operation was in Wisconsin and that Tropical Traditions never took possession of the egg inventory – they simply provided an online service whereby consumers could purchase the eggs directly from the farmer. The farmers in Wisconsin were in complete compliance with regulations of selling eggs directly to the consumer from their farms, according to local authorities in Wisconsin.
It would seem that perhaps CDFA learned their lesson from the 2012 incident, where they had no jurisdiction over farmers in Wisconsin. When Wisconsin Inspector Michael Pederson delivered the Cease and Desist letters this month (March 2017) from Michelle J. Krisher, Regulatory Specialist – Senior with the DIVISION OF FOOD & RECREATIONAL SAFETY of Wisconsin, the farmers asked who had complained about their eggs. The reply alleged given by Mr. Pederson was simply that it “came from California.”
Since Wisconsin would have no jurisdiction over customer complaints from California and given the past history of CDFA in trying to stop the Wisconsin eggs from being shipped into California, it is reasonable to suspect that once again this complaint came from CDFA in California.
California has a history of trying to protect its commercial egg operations from eggs imported from other states. In 2014 a new law went into effect in California requiring caged chickens to have more room in their cages, instantly excluding many commercial egg operations from selling in California. NPR reported:
[O]n Jan. 1, all eggs sold in California will have to come from chickens that live in more spacious quarters — almost twice as spacious, in fact, as the cages that have been the industry standard.
It’s been a shock to the egg industry, and to grocery stores.
Proposition 2, as it’s called, required eggs in California to come from chickens that have enough room to fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. It was a direct challenge to the egg industry, because most egg-laying chickens can’t do that in standard henhouses, where they live in small cages, five or 10 birds to a cage.
In the end, they decided that each chicken is legally entitled to at least 116 square inches of floor space.
As a result, as of Jan. 1, most egg producers in the U.S. cannot sell
eggs in California.
California gave egg producers inside the state several years to comply with the new law but did not extend that exemption to producers in other states. As a result, several states have sued California over the law, but so far they have been unsuccessful. (See: Eggs lawsuit by Iowa, other states is rejected)
Are the Farmers Violating any Laws in Shipping Eggs to Consumers Unrefrigerated?
This seems to be the heart of the matter. Is it really the responsibility of the State of Wisconsin to tell me how I must have my eggs delivered?
Let’s consider this example. I go to a small farm on a warm day in summer and buy a dozen eggs. I put them on the back seat of my car and then head back home. Along the way, I decide to stop and buy gas. While filling my tank I meet an old friend who invites me to have coffee with him. So, I leave my car and my eggs and spend a relaxing hour in conversation. Finally, I return home and put my eggs in the fridge. Now, it was my choice to keep the eggs in an unrefrigerated car for several hours. I had this choice because I owned the eggs and could do whatever I wanted to do with them. It was my choice to delay refrigeration or to bring my own cooler for keeping them cold.
Now let’s say I live 150 miles from the farm and don’t want to make a 300-mile round trip to buy eggs. So, I get out my credit card and buy the eggs online. During the checkout process, I need to choose whether I want 1-day, 2-day, or standard ground delivery. Again, the choice is mine and the responsibility is mine because I am buying the eggs and I own them. If I want overnight delivery, then I pay for it. If I want ground delivery, then that is my choice. I get to choose how long I want my eggs to be unrefrigerated. Since I know that unrefrigerated eggs will stay fresh for weeks, I don’t worry about them being in shipping for a couple days.
If I want ground delivery in a standard uninsulated box, then I should be allowed to make that choice. It seems to me that they are stretching the egg handling regulations to include the shipping of personal internet purchases when the regulations do not discuss such matters.
One must wonder why they are doing this. One must wonder if there is an ulterior motive somewhere behind all of this. One must wonder why exceptions to the regulations could not have been provided.
One of the Healthiest Eggs on the Market for the Past 7 Years is Now Lost
When the Grass-fed Traditions’ soy-free eggs appeared on the market in 2010, it was the culmination of about 2 years of research and development to develop a layer ration that was free from soybeans. Such a poultry layer ration was not commercially available at the time.
Why was it important to develop a poultry feed ration free from soy? As Grass-fed Traditions explains on their website:
Soy has become a big part of the human diet post World War II, with the result that there are many people with soy allergies today, and many people today are trying to reduce or eliminate soy protein from their diet.
Soy is the cheapest protein available today, and it is a major component of most animal feeds. Cheap soy protein allows chickens to grow the fastest, and produce the maximum amount of eggs during their peak laying cycles. If you believe you are allergic to eggs, it could be that you are in fact allergic to soy protein that researchers have now found to be present in egg yolks.
Almost all commercial eggs, including those that are organic or marketed as “Omega 3” eggs, are from chickens fed high concentrations of soy.
So if eggs are a part of your diet today, so is soy protein, whether you realize it or not. Tropical Traditions wanted to offer a soy-free egg from chickens that eat NO SOY. Tropical Traditions’ soy-free eggs have been tested to be soy-free!
Professor M. Monica Giusti of The Ohio State University has done research on soy isoflavones appearing in commercial egg yolks. In 2009 one of her graduate students conducted some research on soy protein in egg yolks for a thesis, and Tropical Traditions supplied some of their soy-free poultry feed for the study. Their research found:
“Egg yolks of hens provided with the soy free diet, showed a rapid decrease of isoflavone concentration. From an initial isoflavone content of 52µg ± 0.73/100g it quickly diminished until at day 7, the concentration reached individual aglycone undetectable levels.”
The chickens that were fed the soy-free feed were laying hens and had been raised on a traditional soy-based chicken feed. Their results showed that laying hens that were fed the soy-free feed, even when raised on a soy-based diet, quickly lose soy protein in egg yolks once they start eating the soy-free ration. After 7 days there were “undetectable levels” of soy protein in the egg yolks.
In recent years, it was found that the organic corn being purchased from local feed mills still had high amounts of GMOs and glyphosate present, so corn was also eliminated from the ration.
The regulations that these two small farming operations are being asked to meet were designed for industrial egg operations that have tens of thousands of birds. In this case, one of the farmers has 200 hens and the other has 600 hens. When they started producing these eggs and shipping them to consumers back in 2010, they were told they were compliant with all regulations to sell eggs direct to the consumer.
New Wisconsin state licensing came about in 2014 when requirements were established that any layer operation with more than 150 hens had to be licensed. Wisconsin now requires farmers who have more than 150 hens to meet state license requirements, which cover hundreds of criteria that only make sense to huge egg operations. [1,2]
Currently, the farmer with 200 laying hens is planning to get out of the egg business if he must meet the state licensing requirements. It does not make business sense for him to build an egg processing room and reconstruct his icehouse, in order to sell a few eggs. Even if he did invest in these changes, he would still have to meet the refrigerated shipping requirement, which remains the major obstacle.
The other farmer with 600 hens was initially willing to obtain a state license but is now also wondering if this still makes business sense for him. But even if he obtained a state handling license, the cost of shipping eggs refrigerated would put the cost of the eggs out of reach for most consumers.
What is the Future of Small-scale Family Farming in the U.S.?
It is a sad day when the nutritional needs of people are sacrificed by a system of regulation that works against the existence of small businesses who are trying to provide high-quality food. It seems as soon as small business owners start exercising independent creativity and ingenuity to produce products that help people become healthier and to stay healthy, there will be an effort to close them down.
These farmers in Wisconsin producing perhaps 50 dozen eggs per day during the sunny months of the year are hardly a threat to anyone. Yet, their egg business is being destroyed for the sake of uniformity and standardization, which only benefits Big Ag.
It seems that every time agriculture regulations are rewritten, they become more and more restrictive and burdensome for small farm businesses. So, congratulations to the State of Wisconsin for setting in motion a plan, which is about to destroy small farm enterprises.
There really is no reason that Wisconsin regulators could not have made an exemption for these farmers since the number of hens involved here (200 and 600) is not significantly higher than the 150 hens, which is the cut-off point for unlicensed egg producers. The size of their egg production is still in keeping with the concept of a small family farm business. These are the same size farms that once dominated the rural landscape throughout America. These farmers do not have dozens of employees and do not produce hundreds of thousands of eggs per day.
But with this Cease and Desist letter, delivered without any prior warning or opportunity to allow the farmers to become compliant before killing their operation, the farmers now face huge economic loss with flocks of chickens that need to be fed expensive chicken feed every day, and no opportunity to sell the eggs while they try to respond to the state’s demands. Their families are suffering from the economic impact of this sudden decision.
Due to the small size of this operation, funding is simply not available to challenge the state in court.
Make Your Voice Heard!
I tried to clarify some of these issues with Michelle J. Krisher, Regulatory Specialist – Senior with the DIVISION OF FOOD & RECREATIONAL SAFETY. She is the person who wrote the letter to the farmers telling them that they must stop selling their eggs and become licensed egg handlers.
Unfortunately, she refused to speak with me. She said that she would refer my information to a specialist in her Department who handles inquiries from legislators and the media. She would not tell me who would be receiving the referral and she raised the possibility that I might not receive a return call from the specialist at all.
Please call Michelle Krisher and politely ask her to make an exception for Wisconsin Pasturelands Cooperative farmers selling their Grass-fed Traditions eggs. At the very least, they should allow the farmers to use up their remaining feed and have an opportunity to sell their chickens to avoid huge financial losses that might put them out of business.
The letterhead she used in her Cease and Desist letter to the farmers boasts “Agriculture generates $88 billion for Wisconsin.” So how are a couple of family farmers providing a premium product for over 7 years from just a few hens such a concern for their department, especially given the fact that this product is consumer driven, and that there are apparently no consumer complaints that are initiating this decision?
Michelle J. Krisher
Regulatory Specialist – Senior
DIVISION OF FOOD & RECREATIONAL SAFETY
608-224-4675 / Office; 608-469-8940 / Cell
608-224-4710 / Fax; firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some of the Wisconsin State Representatives serving in the districts of farmers with the Wisconsin Pasturelands Cooperative:
State Representative: Edward Brooks
Office Phone: 608-266-8531 or 877-947-0050
State Representative: Travis Tranel
Office Phone: 608-266-1170, 888-872-0049
The Governor of Wisconsin is Scott Walker:
Governor Scott Walker, 115 East, State Capitol, Madison, WI 53702.