Footing the cost of change

A dropped egg in my kitchen is an occasion for great sorrow. And not because it sends the dog into a Mop 'n' Glo licking frenzy and a four-year-old screaming for an encore.

It's the economics.

My family pays more than 40 cents per egg - $2.50 a half dozen - for big "organic" specimens.

Spilled milk? Definitely worth crying over when we were paying $3 a half gallon. (Given our family consumption rate, we recently gave up the white gold - trucked down from The Organic Cow in Vermont - for a store brand.)

We favor organic products mainly because we'd rather not ingest the foreign substances often pumped into farm animals. We also hope that organic eggs and milk are coaxed from livestock that live in relative comfort.

Some animal-rights activists argue that we shouldn't drink cows' milk at all, on the grounds that heifers make it for calves that become "byproducts" - often quickly taken from their mothers and shunted into veal pens.

This is too short a column to unscrew the lid on that polarizing debate. The reality is that a lot of us subscribe to the food-chain theory. Some 8 billion animals are "used in food production" in the United States alone, the American Humane Association says.

Most consumers, if asked, will acknowledge that even animals headed for the dinner plate are entitled to "humane" treatment. More farms have begun to certify that the animals they raise are free not only from growth hormones and the like, but also from overcrowding and mistreatment.

Lasting change may depend on consumers. If we're willing to pay farmers to take special measures, humane farming could eventually become an affordable standard.

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