Egg Farmers Rebuttal to NPR on Organic Poultry having access Outdoors

This is in response to the January 11th article in NPR MarketPlace "An Animal Welfare Rule Aimed at Organic Egg Production is on the Chopping Block." We trust that NPR MarketPlace intends to provide both sides of the debate from people knowledgeable in poultry welfare and will therefore print our rebuttal to the claims that outdoor access for poultry improves animal welfare. It does not when considering the possibility of spreading poultry diseases.

When the National Association of Egg Farmers who represent approximately 200 egg farmers nationwide filed their comments, they expressed appreciation that the purpose of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) (7 U.S.C. 6501-6522) is to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent and uniform standard (7 U.S.C. 6501), but we questioned the subjective nature of some of the proposed amendments pertaining to egg laying chickens without the benefit of practical science.

Outdoor access was one proposal that would not contribute to better poultry welfare because it can subject chickens to poultry diseases such as highly pathogenic avian influenza. This is recognized by the US Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service noting that chickens outdoors should not have contact with migratory waterfowl. (http://www.usda.gov/documents/avian-influenza-protect-birds-qa.pdf). Migratory birds, through fecal contamination, can fly over a flock of outdoor chickens and contaminate them. One teaspoon of avian influenza infected manure dropped among outdoor chickens has the potential to contaminate one million chickens. In 2015 the loss of chickens and turkeys from avian influenza cost the US economy more than $3 billion in dealing with the disease and increased egg costs to the consumer.

While we appreciate organic egg farmers reaching for greater consistency in organic livestock practices through specificity and clarity of certain organic feeds fed to organic poultry, outdoor access for poultry is not improved welfare with its potential to devastate once again the other egg farmers producing conventionally in cage systems for their customers.

(Article in NPR MarketPlace)