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FDA Proposal Could Close Organic Free-Range Chicken Farms

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FDA indoor chickens

All chickens will be raised indoors, if the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has its way.

The federal agency is now targeting pastured poultry, free-range chickens — and even the eggs the hens produce. Owners of small farms seem to have been under attack in recent years, with an ever-evolving set of regulations and obstacles thwarting the efforts of small agricultural businesses across the United States.

The FDA is threatening to do away with pastured poultry and free-range chickens to help reduce the threat of salmonella. A document recently released by the federal agency – titled “Questions and Answers Regarding the Final Rule, Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation” — pushes for all egg producers with at least 3,000 laying hens be forced to raise the poultry indoors. The FDA rule requires that chickens always be kept away from mice, rats and wild birds. The agency believes that such a rule would eliminate customer access to eggs and birds contaminated with bacteria.

Cameron Molberg, general manager of egg production at Coyote Creek Farm in Elgin, Texas, told NPR the rules could put the free-range farm out of business. He tests the farm for salmonella and has found none. The farm has 10,000 chickens on 60 acres.

“A hen in a natural environment is less stressed, and she’s less likely to get sick,” Molberg said.

This handbook provides an introduction to key aspects of raising and breeding chickens.

The salmonella outbreaks which have occurred during the past several years reportedly stem from factory chicken farms and not family small businesses. Small and organic farms treat their animals with respect, take pride in the quality of their eggs and poultry, and follow the same harvesting process which has been successful for centuries. A study published in the Veterinary Record found that free-range chickens actually were less likely than chickens kept indoors to have salmonella.

The Alliance for Natural Health USA said the FDA plan would lead to free-range farms no longer being “free-range.”

“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,” the organization said. “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.”

An excerpt from the Food and Drug Administration report reads:

“For outdoor access areas that are part of the poultry house (e.g., porches), FDA recommends cleaning and disinfecting these areas in the same manner the agency recommends for other parts of the poultry house. … If the floor is dirt or grass, tilling the soil may be part of an effective strategy to remove visible manure and potentially-contaminated dust, feathers, and old feed from the poultry house.”

If the FDA is successful in getting the indoor chicken raising policy approved, farmers will have to convert their pastures into enclosed areas complete with roofing or mesh, and place tall fences around the habitat.

The Cornucopia Institute initiated a campaign to help keep organic farming techniques in compliance with their traditional and natural roots. The group said the proposal would “eliminate true organic production” of poultry.

Mark Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, said the “recommendations in this food safety document decisively tilt the playing field to industrial-scale producers.”

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