Food Safety: USDA NOP Update, Outdoor Access for Poultry (5 of 6)

We've all seen the videos that exhibit the questionable food safety practices of many large-scale industrial chicken farms, and so it's not  difficult to deduce that these practices produce unhealthy livestock and therefore unhealthy food.

As part of the six part series on food safety in the organic industry, poultry might be on the top of the list because these animals are not only sentient beings, they are more largely consumed on a daily basis than, say, eggplant - at least on the typical American plate.

The draft regarding living conditions for livestock emphasizes rules that were created in 2002 for organically raised poultry. There are many very specific rules of how livestock must be treated in order to be certified organic; the very fact that some of these need to be mentioned gives strong argument to why one should really consider purchasing organic, but even then, only after local and accountable options are exhausted.

"Organically managed poultry must have access to outdoors. Organic livestock facilities shall give poultry the ability to choose to be in the housing or outside in the open air and direct sunshine. The producer’s organic system plan shall illustrate how the producer will maximize and encourage access to the outdoors."

Outside access and door spacing must be designed to promote and encourage outside access for all birds on a daily basis, weather permitting. Producers must provide access to the outdoors at an early age in order encourage (train) birds to go outdoors.  Pullets must be provided with outside access from the age of 6 weeks providing they are fully feathered and weather permits.

The loophole has existed wherein many large chicken farms will give "access" to the outdoors, but because there are so many chickens crammed into the facility, many chickens can't ever arrive at the exit. If a lucky chicken makes it to the exit, there is only applicable space for a small amount of birds at a time. It's an understandably difficult scenario between humane treatment of animals and actually making a profit by sheer volume. Another loophole is to simply train a chicken to not want to go outdoors by restricting access at a very young age. An article by Jill Richardson discusses more deeply some of the loopholes large-scale industrial farms perform when looking to fill their pockets over the well-being of both their livestock and ultimately their clientele.

So it's up to us, now, to be armed with an arsenal of knowledge and vote with our dollars. But even further democratic, these draft documents are exactly that: drafts. Comments on the draft guidances are welcomed and required to be submitted by December 13, 2010. Please see the Series Introduction for details. When we require of ourselves a vested interest in food safety, our due process will yield nothing short of it.