Lead in Chicken Eggs Raises Concerns for Locavores

Lead has been found in eggs from urban chickens Lead has been found in eggs from backyard chickens. Are you concerned about the health hazard? Image: kev303/iStockphoto

You’re raising chickens in your backyard for all the right reasons — but a new study scrambles the benefits.

If you’ve gotten into the locavore groove, you know the advantages of raising your own chickens: Low-cost chow; pesticide-free eggs for you and your family; localizing the food supply chain.

But a preliminary study by the New York State Department of Health has stirred bits of shell into the locavore omelet.

The study revealed that half the eggs tested from community gardens in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens had detectable levels of lead.

Store-bought eggs have no lead.

That’s disturbing news. First, it doesn’t take much lead to cause lead poisoning — minute amounts of lead in young children can cause learning disabilities, behavior issues, and even death. And lead poisoning is accumulative — those little bits add up over time.

Understandably, the New York State Health Department doesn’t want to push any panic buttons. For one, community gardens located in heavy industrialized areas — such as urban New York City — can be expected to have soils that have been exposed to trace contaminants. And the study results don’t mean the sky is falling for chicken farmers in suburban and rural areas.

But The New York Times reports that other isolated tests have had similar results. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t set limits for the amount of lead in poultry, it’s hard to say if the minute amounts of lead being discovered are a health hazard.

Quoted in the Times article, backyard chicken farmer Declan Walsh of Brooklyn said, “The benefits of raising your children with an awareness of where your food comes from and having an honest relationship with your livestock way, way outweighs the possibility that they might encounter a heavy metal.”

Do you agree? Do you have concerns about the possibility of lead in your backyard chickens?