Feature

Germany: Is nobody regulating agriculture?

This isn’t just about horsemeat anymore—authorities have now uncovered “a colossal swindle” in the organic egg industry, too.

Sandra Tjong
Focus

This isn’t just about horsemeat anymore, said Sandra Tjong. German authorities have now uncovered “a colossal swindle” in the organic egg industry, too. Millions of German eggs have been labeled as free-range and organic, when in fact they come from battery hens crammed several to a cage and stuffed with pesticide-laden feed. How could that be, given that organic certification is supposed to be stringently regulated? The answer lies in the outsourcing of inspections. No government agency sends inspectors to farms. Instead, some 22 private companies and groups conduct the inspections, and if a farmer doesn’t like the results of one company, he can just hire another. The companies themselves complain that they can’t be expected to count every hen and measure every cage on a farm with upward of 70,000 chickens, so they rely on farmers’ self-reports for much of their evaluations. Fraud can also occur at the packing plants, where the same machines are used to stamp regular, cage-free, and organic eggs—“and there’s no guarantee that the mechanism is always set correctly.” Even if a farm is complying with all organic specifications, that “doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free.” So what can green-minded consumers do? The only way to be sure of what you’re eating is to buy from a farmers market—and get to know the farmer. 

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