| Do porches count as the great outdoors if you're a chicken?
Under the 5-month-old National Organic Program, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture says they do -- and that has got consumer and environmental
groups madder than a wet hen. |
Under the federal program, chickens sold as organic must have access
to the outdoors. So when a USDA-accredited organic certifier in Massachusetts
was called upon to investigate a local egg producer, it denied the
company certification because its chickens did not have "adequate
access to exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight." The
producer appealed to the USDA, saying its plan to build porches off
the barn so the chickens could be in the fresh air was sufficient
to meet the outdoor-access requirement. In October, the USDA's Agricultural
Marketing Service, which oversees the federal organic guidelines,
authorized the producer to use the organic label anyway.
But that's not the end of it. A spokesman for Massachusetts Independent
Certifiers Inc. says that organization will file a complaint today
with the federal agency. This is not what consumers of organic food,
who are willing to pay premium prices for poultry they believe was
raised humanely, had in mind, says Urvashi Rangan of the Consumers
Union. "It's two 30-foot-square balconies to provide access for
6,000 chickens -- and they're not even built. There's just a plan
to build them," Rangan says. "In the consumer's eye, the
USDA is supposed to be the guard and the protector of the national
organics program. But USDA has wasted no time in undermining the integrity
of this rule."
In fact, consumer groups say, only five months into the federal program
that took 12 years to create, exemptions are already piling up. When
President Bush signed the government's annual spending bill last week,
he also authorized a late addition that created a loophole to the
organic program's requirement that all organic livestock be fed 100%
The amendment, which took effect immediately, directs the USDA not
to enforce the organic feed requirement unless the agency can prove
that organic feed is readily available and costs less than twice the
cost of conventional feed. It was introduced by U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal,
R-Ga., on behalf of Fieldale Farms, a Georgia poultry producer.
This basically guts the organic rules, says Ken Cook, president of
the Environmental Working Group. "They got this thing through
for one producer in Georgia, and consumers all over the country now
are not going to be able to have faith in the organic standard they've
been waiting for for 12 years," Cook says.
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the
compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. For more
information, go to www.UPC-online.org.
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150