The following is a discussion of some loopholes in the U.S. federal organic standards regarding egg production and outdoor access for hens. In early autumn, Peter Singer and Jim Mason visited Pete & Gerry's Eggs, an organic egg facility in New Hampshire, and spoke with CFO Jesse Laflamme. Some 20,000 hens are kept in each of the 60'x400' "sheds" there.
Singer, Peter and Mason, Jim. 2006. The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, 104-105. Rodale.
The most controversial rule, Jesse [the manager] told us, is the requirement for outdoor access for the hens.
We gave each other quizzical looks. We hadn't noticed any way in which the hens we had just seen could go outdoors. "So these hens have outdoor access?" we asked.
Jesse pointed to a bare patch of dirt between the shed we had been in and a neighboring shed. "There are penned in areas over there, and around the back," he said." But the shed we had been in didn't seem to allow any way of getting outside. We asked Jesse how the birds got out. "It's sealed," he acknowledged. "I sealed it up about three or tour weeks ago, because of the time of year [September!!]. The USDA has exceptions for that, depending on the climate. Theoretically, an organic farm in Arizona ought to be able to give the birds access to the outside all year. But the controversy is really about disease, if the hens come in to contact with wild birds"....
...There seemed to be a clash between the rules for producing organic eggs and what Jesse believed was necessary to protect his hens and his livelihood. We could see the problem, but we weren't clear how Jesse was resolving it. We pressed on: "If we had come a month ago, and it was a warm day, would there be hens out there?"
"If it was a clear day, and we could be sure that there were no wild birds flying over, yeah."
"But you can never be sure that there would be no wild birds flying over!"
"Right. Theres the rub. But we've had the doors open on some days. Not many birds go out."
"And you don't get problems with the inspectors about that?" we asked.
"No, nobody is getting problems about that, at this point."
Photos of some of the birds at the UPC sanctuary enjoying wintery weather:
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150