Handsome Brook Farm
|Company||Handsome Brook Farm|
|Outdoor Access||Enhanced Outdoor Access|
|Market Area Detail||Upstate New York|
We are reinstating Handsome Brook’s 4-egg rating after suspending it pending the outcome of our investigation into allegations regarding serious improprieties. At least two lawsuits have been filed against the company, one by the Organic Consumers Association and one by a competitor claiming unfair competition and economic injury.
We have confirmed, based on documentary evidence and first-hand witness testimony, that Handsome Brook made several large wholesale purchases of organic eggs from outside their network of contracted farmer-suppliers. This came at a time of rapid growth for the company, when they could not fulfill market demand. These eggs did meet the USDA organic standards. However, these eggs did not meet the company’s marketing representations in terms of enhanced outdoor access (what they refer to as “pastured”) and other animal welfare practices. The evidence indicates that as it relates to these purchases, they were selling standard organic eggs that did not merit the premium prices they were charging. Additionally, Handsome Brook may have marketed a small quantity of eggs as organic, that did not legally qualify for the organic label, but we have not been able to confirm this.
After the first allegations became public in 2016, and investors took control of the management of Handsome Brook, we entered into negotiations with the new managers asking for their cooperation in our investigation. We asked them for access, through their auditors, of all purchasing records from 2015 and 2016 and other material that would help us evaluate the past conduct of the company. We received full cooperation from Handsome Brook’s new management.
Thus, completing our investigation and finding no evidence of current violations of law or misrepresentations taking place, we are now reinstating the company on our organic egg scorecard. Handsome Brook’s rating has been modestly downgraded as we have yet to complete our on-site audits to confirm management control improvements at the farm level. We have every reason to believe that the new ownership is acting in an honest and transparent manner. They have committed to continuing Cornucopia’s full access to their auditor, accounting records and farmer lists. If we find they have made improvements we will look at raising their score later this year. With this level of scrutiny we would be surprised if we encounter any ongoing material improprieties.
Additional details were published by Sustainable Food News in June:
Handsome Brook Farm LLC (HBF), one of the largest U.S. producers of certified-organic pasture-raised eggs, and Humane Farm Animal Care, Inc. (HFAC), which administers the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label, have reached a compromise settlement in a two-year lawsuit.
Franklin, N.Y.-based HBF had brought a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act against HFAC in May 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Case #: 1:16-cv-00592).
HBF was certified by the American Humane Association (AHA) in March 2016, becoming the only egg provider certified by AHA that is 100 percent pasture raised. HBF is also certified organic by USDA-accredited certifier Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY).
HBF contracts with more than 75 pasture-raised egg farms in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina and Kentucky, and sells organic, pasture-raised eggs in more than 4,000 grocery stores including Kroger, Publix, Sprouts, Whole Foods Market, Harris Teeter, Wegmans, other independent and natural retailers.
HBF sued after HFAC’s Executive Director, Adele Douglass, sent an email to 36 grocery retailers, including Whole Foods, Kroger, Costco, Target, Safeway, Wegman’s, Publ ix, Price Chopper, Harris Teeter, Albertsons and The Fresh Market, stating that HBF lacked up-to-date certifications to support its representations that its eggs are organic and pasture raised.
The email continued, “I hope you reconsider changing suppliers.”
HBF said that it lost existing and potential retailers as a result of the email. And, according to court documents, the record reflected that HBF’s “organic certifications were up-to-date and its pasture-raised certification had been recently audited.”
Herndon, Va.-based HFAC launched in 2003, and counts more than 170 companies, representing 6,000 farms and 835 million farm animals, that have been certified under its Standards of Animal Care, which are verified through farm inspections. The majority of HFAC’s revenue comes from royalties paid by licensees who use the Certified Humane label and inspection fees, both of which are necessary for a licensee to maintain HFAC certification.
For example, HFAC’s 2014 revenue was $739,562, and about 72 percent of that came from program services revenue, such as certification fees, according to court documents. The majority of HFAC’s revenue comes from the certification fees, which are based on the volume of eggs its licensees sell. HFAC-licensed egg producers must pay HFAC $0.05 per case of 30-dozen eggs that it sells under the Certified Humane label.
The district court issued a preliminary injunction in June 2016 prohibiting HFAC from circulating the email and requiring HFAC to publish a retraction email.
The case was then stayed in July 2016 while HFAC asked for an interlocutory appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which subsequently agreed in August 2017 with the lower court’s judgment. An interlocutory appeal asks an appellate court to review a ruling before a case has been concluded.
The case was re-opened in October 2017 and the two sides continued to litigate. A jury trial was on the docket for June 25.
Meanwhile, HBF admitted in March to selling organic eggs labeled as ‘Pasture Raised,’ when in fact the eggs were sourced in late 2015 and early 2016 from producers not engaged in pasture-raising hens.
HBF also acknowledged that some farms within its “own farm network did not live up to its internal standards for pasture-raising,” according to a joint statement it released with the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) regarding the settlement of dueling lawsuits previously reported by Sustainable Food News.
OCA had sued HBF in Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Case #: 2016 CA 006223 B) in August 2016 alleging the company was misleading consumers by selling eggs that “do not fit consumer perceptions of ‘pasture raised.'”
HBF then filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Case #: 17-cv-05398) in December against OCA for its alleged “defamatory statements falsley accusing [HBF] of inhumane treatment of animals,” requesting a jury trial and judgment in excess of $2 million.
As part of the litigation settlement, HBF, which said in the joint statement that it has recently come under new management, “acknowledges shortcomings identified by OCA, including limited out-of-network purchases of organic eggs from producers in late 2015 and early 2016 that did not meet its pasture-raising criteria.”
It is not clear according to court documents what impact HBF’s admission in March had on the settlement with HFAC, which was announced last week. Nevertheless, the two parties agreed to bear their own court costs and fees and go their separate ways.
|TOTAL (possible score is 2700)||2060|
4-Egg Rating | Excellent
Family farms and farmer cooperatives that market their own eggs receive the most points. Corporations that do not produce any eggs receive the fewest points.Ownership Structure
|60||family owned business with contracts with other farmers|
Flocks of 500 birds or fewer receive the most points based on Animal Welfare Approved standards.Average Flock Size
|60||5,000 bird flocks|
Single henhouses receive the most points.Single or Double Henhouses
Animal Welfare Approved and Biodynamic certifications receive the most bonus points. Producers are not penalized for not having additional certifications beyond organic.Other Certifications (bonus points)
|10||In process of verification|
Points determined by integrity of the brand’s organic certifier.Organic Certifier
Farms that are 100% certified organic receive the most points, farms/brands that are split conventional and organic receive fewer points.Commitment to Organics
|80||markets both organic and conventional cage-free eggs|
More than 1.8 square feet per bird receives the most points, less than 1.2 square feet receives the fewest.Indoor Space per Bird
|100||minimum of 2 sq ft/hen|
Farms with perches, scratching areas and deep litter or year round pasture receive the most points.Indoor Enrichments
|100||perches, dust baths, scratching areas, year-round pasture access|
Farms that freshen litter weekly receive the most points.Litter Management
|80||litter freshened as needed, removed after each flock|
Farms that ensure birds have ample access to outdoors during daylight hours receive the most points.Natural Light
|80||some natural light via windows|
Farms that ensure 108 square feet per bird or more outdoors receive the most points.Outdoor Space per Bird
|100||between 43-110 sq ft/hen|
Farms that ensure birds are in mobile housing or 1 large door per 75 birds receive the most points.Popholes/Exit to the Outdoors
|80||one door per 251-500 birds|
Farms that ensure birds have access to feed, water and shade outdoors receive the most points.Outdoor Enrichments
|100||feed, water, shade|
Farms that can ensure outdoor access year round or those that only confine birds during inclement weather receive the most points.Outdoor Space Exemptions
|100||year-round outdoor access|
Farms that use mobile housing rotated on pasture every 1-2 days or weekly receive the most points.Outdoor Management System
|50||fixed housing with rotated pasture managed - erratic compliance in the past. In process of verifying improvements|
Farms that recycle chicken manure on the farm, using it for fertilizer, without causing nutrient pollution, receive the most points.Manure Handling System
|50||some use, some sell|
Farms that never force molting receive the most points.Forced Molting
|100||no forced molting|
Farms that never trim or tip beaks receive the most points.Beak Trimming
|70||beak trimming within first 10 days of life|
Farms where hens live an average of 3+ years or 1.6-3 years receive the most points.Laying Hen Lifespan
|40||72 weeks average|
Farms where spent hens die a natural death, are sold for meat, or are processed and sold for human consumption, receive the most points.Use of Spent Hens
|100||sold live for food, eggs|
Farms where the death loss rate of hens is less than 3% annually receive the most points.Death Loss Rate
|80||average 5% death loss|
Farms that breed and incubate their own chicks, or raise their own pullets, receive the most points.Pullets
|40||purchases ready-to-lay pullets from outside source|
Farms that allow pullets access to the outdoors within the first 6 weeks of life, or within 6-10 weeks, receive the most points.Pullet Access to Outdoors
|60||10-16 weeks old|
Farms where all feed is produced on the farm receive the most points.Feed Produced on Farm
|50||one farm produces all grain, other farm produces none|
Farms where 100% of the feed is grown in the US or Canada receive the most points.US Grown Feed
|100||all domestically grown|
No points are given for this but the information may be useful to certain consumers looking to avoid soy.Soy in Feed
|Yes||soy in feed ration|
Farms that do not feed synthetic amino acids receive the most points.Synthetic Amino Acids
|70||No more than 2 lbs per ton|
Farms that participated in Cornucopia’s research providing full transparency receive the most points.Disclosure Rate