I buy organic because I expect USDA Organic certification to produce safe, healthy and nutritious food, while respecting the welfare of animals and protecting the environment.
According to the USDA Organic rules, egg laying hens on organic farms are supposed to be allowed outdoors in the sunlight where they can engage in natural behaviors like pecking and scratching.
Sadly, I've learned that some egg laying hens on organic farms stay indoors their entire lives and never see the sun.
As a consumer, this means I have to reevaluate my buying habits. Is organic really the highest standard? Should I being looking for certifications, like Animal Welfare Approved, in addition to organic? I know there are some organic brands that are doing the right thing. I don't want to push them to take on the burden of another certification, but how else will consumers know what we're actually buying?
The USDA National Organic Program needs to take action to enforce the rules or consumers will lose faith in organic and start shopping for alternatives. Organic is the highest standard; it just needs to be enforced.
What organic doesn't need -- or deserve -- is to be treated as a food safety risk. In the case of eggs, raising the hens on organic feed greatly reduces the risks of salmonella.
Salmonella is found in animal byproducts like chicken feathers or fecal matter. The organic rules forbid animal byproducts from chicken feed. As a consequence, organic feed rarely contains salmonella, while conventional feed is full of it. This is according to Walid Alali, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia's College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
Alali's research found salmonella to be far less prevalent in organic than conventional chicken. He found that chickens from the organic farms had a 4.3 percent rate of salmonella prevalence. The conventional chickens, on the other hand, were affected 28.8 percent of the time - nearly seven times more.
When we know that salmonella is being transmitted largely through conventional chicken feed, it's silly to require organic egg producers to put up fences, set traps or put up roofing or netting to keep out wild animals, or to confine their chickens inside during times when migratory birds are found in grazing areas.The FDA's new rules could destroy business for farms like Coyote Creek Farm in Elgin, Texas, where 10,000 egg-laying chickens graze on 60 acres of pasture, scratching in the dirt for worms and bugs.Building a canopy over the pasture isn't financially feasible. Even protecting a small part of it would cost 10 times more than the farm's entire profit last year. Any structure that cut off sun or rain would quickly turn the grass-covered pasture into dry dirt, defeating the purpose of raising hens outdoors on pasture.
The FDA's new outdoor egg rules aren't necessary. Salmonella isn't a problem when the feed is free of animal byproducts. Plus, hens in a natural environment are less stressed and less likely to get sick.
USDA and FDA policies should encourage outdoor organic egg production, not discourage it. Please take action to protect safe, healthy and nutritious organic eggs from hens raised outdoors.
Organic Consumers Association