Picture this: A chicken factory farm with overcrowded hens packed onto the cement floor with a higher risk for disease and without good-quality feed or even fresh air. Now, picture this: Family farms that provide their pasture-raised hens with plenty of feed, nutrients and abundant space to forage for seeds, grass and protein-packed critters in luscious pastures.
Actually, you don’t have to picture it: Vital Farms egg customers can now watch and hear the clucking chickens on a 360-degree video on the company’s website. According to the Austin-based company, offering consumers such a view of how these egg farms operate is an industry first.
Vital Farms partners with about 200 U.S. farms and lists the farm of origin on every egg carton. Customers can then search out the farm online to view the video. Prompts on the Vital Farms’ website encourage viewers to crank up the volume to appreciate the clucking noise the chickens make as they scavenge in spacious pastures. A Featured Farm of the Month video is available for people who have not purchased eggs but want to check out the videos.
The Featured Farm of the Month video shows foraging hens roaming in and out of camera view that appear healthy (with smooth, full feathers and without visible wounds from pecking). Though the videos are not live, Vital Farms' welfare claims are third-party verified by Humane Farm Animal Care’s Certified Humane standards.
It’s one thing for a company to say its animals are treated humanely. It’s another thing to actually film such efforts.
To that end, Vital Farms says it’s on a mission "to bring ethically-produced food to the table." One of the ways the company seeks to accomplish this goal is by ensuring that every egg is laid by a pasture-raised hen. These hens roam 108 or more square feet of pastureland and are brought indoors at sunset for their safety from predators, according to the company.
Vital Farms’ demonstration of traceability and transparency is indicative of the turnaround the U.S. egg industry has made over the past decade. Consumers who became appalled at how hens were treated have long been pressuring businesses to boost their animal welfare standards, and many of the largest U.S. retailers and restaurant chains have responded in kind. The evidence suggests this trend is continuing, albeit slowly, worldwide: Nestlé is among the companies that have committed to a cage-free eggy supply chain by 2025.
Vital Farms, however, is going even further with its pasture-raised commitment and worked with Certified Humane to develop a formal standard for the claim. The on-farm videos are a next step and give customers a window into how their eggs are produced.
A growing trend in America is a desire to understand how everyday food gets from farm to table. Technology certainly helps, but an industry commitment is important as well—and some sectors within the wider food industry have been more transparent than others.
Vital Farms’ decision to become more transparent about how its eggs are sourced follows in the footsteps of other brands that have attempted to show consumers the origins of their food products. In the fall of 2017, for example, the brand Honeysuckle White allowed some customers in Texas to see where its Thanksgiving turkeys came from. In Australia, JBS launched a similar program late last year for beef customers.
But we are a long way off from watching cattle freely roam, or fish swim, on web cams—and in this way, Vital Farms is pushing the envelope on supply chain traceability and transparency.
Image credit: Vital Farms
Debra is a writer and public relations professional based in Upstate New York. Her other interests include graphic design, photography, nature and animals. You can find her on LinkedIn.