It Will Permanently Institutionalize Factory Conditions for Organic Poultry

Comment by October 11

What part of the current regulations does the USDA not understand?

The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and maintain year-round livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including:

Year-round access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air…. [emphasis added]

Instead of enforcing the spirit and letter of the law, subsequent administrations in the White House and at the USDA have spent years delaying, with the excuse that new rulemaking “was needed.” After a decade of foot dragging, a draft rule is available for public comment — and it makes things worse!

Please make your voice heard by asking the USDA to:

1. Reject the current draft rule unless they are willing to substantively change it.

2. Shorten the proposed timelines for implementation. Suggested phase in schedules are wholly unacceptable (three years for existing laying houses, eight years for new houses, and an appalling alternative proposal for 15 years). A one-year phase in is adequate given the short lives of these animals and the fact that houses that are currently out of compliance can be used, more appropriately, for conventional production.

3. Immediately begin to enforce the current federal regulations requiring the opportunity for all animals to access the outdoors.

Please feel free to review the bullet points below and cut and paste the most meaningful portions, or the talking points in their entirety, into your comments. Including a personal message telling the bureaucrats and political appointees why this matters to you will amp-up the power of your comment.

Please submit your comments to the USDA by clicking here:

If you’d like to drill down further, please read OrganicEye’s formal comments.

For extra credit, if you are a member of any other nonprofit organizations that have joined the chorus applauding these rules (led by the lobbyists at the Organic Trade Association), we would encourage you to contact them and request they reach out to OrganicEye for an off the record, confidential discussion of why they might want to change their public stance.

OrganicEye commentary on proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule (Docket Number: AMS-NOP-21-0073):

The proposed draft rule is woefully inadequate to address current improprieties in the production of organic eggs and meat birds. In some regards, it will codify the current violations of the spirit and letter of the law, and other elements might actually undermine the intent that all organic livestock have the opportunity to go outdoors.

Here are a few of our concerns:

  1. Allowing porches with concrete floors, as are currently used in giant factory-sized buildings, some housing as many as 200,000 birds, to be counted as outdoor space means virtually no birds will actually get outside because they would first have to pass through this buffer zone where there is no vegetation, no food, no water, and no reason to enter. These buildings are being operated by corporations who have testified that for the “health and safety” of the birds they don’t want to let them outside—and right now they are producing the vast majority of the organic eggs in this country.
  1. Once outside, depending on the size and age of the bird, broilers and layers will only have one or two square feet each to roam around. In Europe, they are required to have 43 square feet.
  1. Up to 50% of the outdoor space can be paved over with concrete or gravel. This means the birds will first have to exit through a series of small doors, then traverse a semi-enclosed porch. Depending on the construction and configuration of the space, the birds might then have to leave the porch through more tiny doors or step over a concrete curb or parapet wall (these are installed on modern buildings in varying heights to prevent intrusions by rodents). Some birds may even have to go down ramps if the porch is on a two-story building. The animals would then need to walk across a paved or graveled surface before they reach any semblance of a natural environment (so they can engage in their natural instinctive behaviors of foraging).

    We know birds with a diverse diet from a healthy ecosystem, outdoors, produce more nutritious and flavorful eggs and are happier and healthier animals. Currently organic eaters are being cheated and this draft rule will make that fraud legal.
  1. When the birds are indoors, the same porches can be counted as part of the indoor space requirements. Indoors, birds will also have only one or two square feet each, depending on their weight at any point in their development. And by counting the porches, they will have even less. Again, they are unlikely to exit through small doors into an area which is barren. Imagine living an entire life in a space that size! Even in certified organic egg production, the USDA is allowing laying hens to be raised in aviaries (glorified cages), stacking them, on multiple levels, floor-to-ceiling (see photo). There is no way that any birds that aren’t in close proximity to the small doors will ever be able to make their way through thousands of other animals to access the outdoors.
  1. Based on agribusiness statements claiming the birds can’t go outside at a young age, laying hens can be confined for as long as the first 21 weeks of their lives. Since they’ve never gone outside for well over the first five months of their lives, they are no longer interested in, or are scared of, the outdoors. Given that Amish and other commercial-scale producers let their birds go out after just the first few weeks of their lives—and end up with happier and healthier chickens—we find claims to the contrary to be specious. And, in all of our investigations, we have never seen a broiler chicken outside of commercial-scale houses. This draft rule will not change that.
  1. The idea that these birds will be able to exhibit their “natural behaviors” in these grossly overcrowded conditions, as required by current law, is an attempt to deceive the public. Because the birds are under such stress, the draft rules will allow chopping off part of their beaks to prevent them from pecking their flock mates. At most, they should be allowed to merely take off the sharp tip (something the industry refers to as “tipping”). However, in some smaller operations, more humane conditions and lower stocking levels make these alterations unnecessary. Without healthy beaks, birds cannot effectively engage in their customary foraging behavior, even if they do ever actually get to be outdoors.
  1. The new draft rule also eliminates standards requiring natural light in the hen houses substituting, effectively, 100% artificial light.
  1. Various elements of the USDA proposal allow implementation to be phased in over three, eight, and 15 years—an outrageous giveaway to factory farm interests and industrial-scale operations that are violating the existing standards

Thanks to the current lax enforcement by the USDA, only a small percentage of broilers and layers actually ever get outside (usually on smaller family farms). For the past decade, organic stakeholders have collaborated with the National Organic Standards Board in an effort to rein-in these abuses. This draft does nothing to ameliorate the problem and is loaded with boasting about protecting organic integrity and respecting the sentiments of organic shoppers.

Currently, most commercial poultry operations of all scales have no legitimate outdoor access. And because there is no financial incentive or regulatory enforcement ensuring otherwise, birds virtually never actually go outside, even when outdoor space is provided. It is typical to observe only 1-10% ever venturing outdoors.