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Food Safety and Processing Perspective

Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.
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Outdoor access: Yes for organic eggs, but no for plants

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To be USDA certified organic in the future, poultry will be required to have outdoor access on the dirt, but organic fruits and vegetables can be grown inside. | Leonidovich, iStockPhoto

USDA certified organic vegetables and fruits can be raised in climate-controlled greenhouses in pots or in water, but poultry must go outside on the dirt

February 8, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a new final rule calling for major welfare changes for organic livestock.

Under the new rule, enclosed areas – called porches or verandas – will no longer satisfy the requirement of providing outdoor access to broilers, layers or turkeys.

When the final rule takes effect, it will mean organic poultry will have to have access to a pasture area, which may or may not be fenced. Exposing organic laying hens, broilers and turkeys to temperature fluctuations and rain as well as to predators is, I suppose, part of the “welfare enhancements” that this rule will provide.

Certified organic poultry in the U.S. must go outside, but according to the USDA’s Guide for Organic Crop Producers, organic fruits and vegetables can be grown in climate-controlled greenhouses using artificial light. In addition, hydroponic systems are approved, so organic plants don’t even have to come in contact with “dirt” or soil. The contact-with-dirt argument was used against porch systems for organic poultry, but for whatever reason growing organic crops without soil is acceptable.

I am really struggling with the logic of rules that require poultry to be outside on dirt to be certified organic while plants can be raised indoors and be certified organic. I have commented before on proposed restrictions of the use of synthetic methionine in organic poultry feeds and how these could dramatically raise the cost of producing organic eggs and poultry meat.

It seems as though these rules have been created to encourage year-round organic fruit and vegetable production and to discourage organic poultry meat and egg production. Maybe the next unfounded price fixing class action lawsuit will be filed against organic poultry producers for colluding to restrict supply and raise prices.