By Sam Bloch
This likely won’t come as news to those of you who follow closely the organic industry’s ever-shifting ground, but there’s an animal welfare battle roiling the $47 billion market.
As reported last month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed a withdrawal from the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP), a set of animal welfare rules that would redefine what it means to produce organic meat, and buy organic eggs and milk.
Currently, to be certified “organic,” producers must raise animals without antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal byproducts. Feed must be 100-percent certified organic, and contain no genetically modified organisms or unapproved synthetic pesticides. And animals must have year-round access to the outdoors with “fresh air” and “direct sunlight.”
Those last two terms—fresh air and sunlight—are causing particular headaches for the poultry industry. As Lynne Curry wrote in her December piece about the fate of the OLPP, the definition of “outdoors” sounds pretty straightforward to laymen. But those terms, as it turns out, are rather loose, and inherently more about birds-per-foot than how you quantify air and sky.
Here’s the problem with that. Since 2002, large-scale producers who raise their hens in cramped barns have been able to create fenced walls, or “poultry porches,” for their barns and still qualify those conditions as meeting the “fresh air” and “direct sunlight” provision. That allows these producers to “get certified and collect their egg money,” wrote Curry.Click here to see more...