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Is the FDA Trying to Destroy the Pastured Egg Industry?

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Recent guidance from the FDA will place an impossible burden on farmers who raise true free-range chickens. Action Alert!

The guidance, released last month for farms that have more than 3,000 egg-laying chickens, purportedly aims to prevent salmonella and other foodborne illnesses by isolating chickens from cats, rats, flies, and wild birds-even though no evidence exists showing them to be of significant risk at spreading salmonella. A 2010 article in the Atlantic Monthly stated that all but one outbreak of foodborne illness in the US since 1995 originated at industrial factory farms.

The FDA guidance suggests that farmers must cover their outdoor pastures with either roofing or netting, or use noise cannons to scare away wild birds. Perhaps it has escaped FDA that noise cannons would also scare the chickens? Or that putting a roof over a multi-acre pasture is not only cost-prohibitive, but would prevent rain and sun from reaching the living things in the pasture? FDA also advocates walls around the pasture, to prevent mice, rats, and cats from entering, and then put a roof over it. That's right-walls and roofing. In other words, they want the chickens to be kept in a building! This completely contradicts what "free-range" is supposed to be about: they can be cage-free, but not outdoors.

The problem, of course, is that FDA is describing the commonplace practice where farmers house their birds inside, giving them access to tiny porches that only 1% to 3% of the chickens can use at a time-if there are any porches. Although eggs labeled "organic" must allow birds outdoor access, these small porches qualify as outdoor access, according to the USDA. Sadly, this is the industry standard free-range hens; the standards for "cage-free" are even less demanding.

"Free-range" in USDA-speak certainly does not mean "pastured." There is a world of difference between an indoor hen that eats feed and never sees the sun, and an outdoor hen that finds part of its own dinner by scratching in the dirt for bugs and worms.     
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