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FDA Poised to Release Guidance Restricting Outdoor Access for Organic Poultry

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page and our Safeguard Organic Standards page.

Draft Favors Industrial-Scale Operations Over Family Farms

On Tuesday, July 23, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will release a draft guidance for organic egg producers (and other farmers who allow outdoor access for their chickens) to comply with its salmonella food safety rule, which went into effect in 2010.  The draft guidance is in a Question and Answer format.  The public comment period is sixty days, and the FDA is seeking input from organic industry stakeholders.

Organic Integrity Concerns:

• There is ample scientific evidence showing that confining chickens to battery cages, large flock sizes, infestation with flies and rodents, and forced molting (a practice banned in organics) are risk factors for salmonella contamination.  Yet rather than address these documented risk factors, which are common on non-organic, large-scale confinement operations ("factory farms"), the FDA is focusing on outdoor access and making it harder for organic farmers, who afford their chickens access to the outdoors, to comply with FDA regulations.

• Wild birds were never addressed in the FDA's salmonella rule, and studies have not consistently shown that farms where hens come in contact with wild birds are more likely to have salmonella contamination.  We question why the FDA's guidance document focuses on reducing contact with wild birds when wild birds present a low risk factor.

• Countries in the European Union do not limit outdoor access and require at least 43 ft2 per bird of outdoor space.  These countries are having great success with reducing salmonella rates without interfering with outdoor access. 

• Published studies show that cages, flies and large flock sizes are the real risk factors for salmonella contamination, yet the FDA spent considerable resources to draft guidance specifically for organic producers with outdoor access.  If the FDA were truly concerned with consumer health, it would phase out cages and large flock sizes.