The big boys, industrial animal production that is, have slowly been worming their way into organics. I’ve often called it the bastardization of organics which is no criticism of true organic producers only those who want to take over organics and make it just like the mainstream industrial food system they already control.
The latest comes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A 60 day comment period on the Final Rule, Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in Shell Eggs during Production, Storage, and Transportation (Layers with Outdoors Access). What to comment on is a draft guidance document to clarify how egg producers can comply with the original rule”. The document that I printed out from the FDA website was a questions and answers type deal and interestingly enough it starts out – Draft Guidance for Industry!
While the Final Rule for prevention of SE in shell Eggs (the Egg Rule) became effective in September 2009 we now have to have more comments allowed to regulations that went into effect 4 years ago. Talk about waste of taxpayer dollars, this might be a good place to cut spending to balance the budget.
I’ve no heartburn with ensuring food safety or preventing SE, it’s a must in today’s food system. As a matter of fact we have testing done on our farm for SE and Whole Foods who we sell our eggs to requires it of all egg producers they purchase from. What I do have heartburn with is that FDA is taking aim at those who allow real and true outdoor access for their laying hens and more specifically certified organic which outdoor access is required in the National Organic Standards.
Since 2009, USDA has been allowing certified “organic” industrial sized farms that reportedly confine as many as 100,000 hens in a building to sneak around the organic requirement of outdoor access with screened in porches which allow a small percentage of the confined hen’s outdoor access. The screened in porches can have flooring of concrete, dirt, or grass. I can guarantee that there is no grass available for hens to naturally forage on in a screened in porch that provides outdoor access for 100,000 hens however USDA has been seeing it differently, allowing the porches to be claimed as legal structures. Before you know it this will become the new “free range”!
FDA’s new guidance document includes covered porches as one of the four types of outdoor access systems for organic being used. This has many of the real organic producers who implement real outdoor access in an uproar. Decidedly, USDA and FDA have legitimized and paved the way for industrial organic production. Before long, the National Organic Standards for eggs will be so eroded that the only difference between an industrial and industrial organic egg will be the type of feed fed to the hens. That my friends will also become debatable as more often than not the organic feed supply will be compromised.
Back to FDA’s food safety “guidance document”! Recommendations are that SE can be prevented through avoiding contact with wild birds. Theory is that wild birds are a carrier of SE. Oh please! I’ve heard this same old song and dance with avian influenza in recommendations for biosecurity. It’s an industry line that is supposed to legitimize confinement. Nothing more and nothing less!
FDA is recommending to organic egg producers noise cannons, temporary confinement, netting to cover outdoor area, or structures with roofs (meaning porches) to avoid contact with wild birds. I’ve many arguments against this.
First and foremost – Remember the giant egg recall for SE contamination? The eggs recalled were from industrial farms raising tens-of-thousands confinement hens not from hens outdoors on pasture. What wild birds were flying around in the confinement houses? Research abounds indicating that the threat from SE contamination comes from large scale industrial operations not from small scale pastured poultry. It couldn’t be coming from the filthy conditions inside of confinement houses, could it?
Getting down to the nitty gritty, porches or structures with roofs is not outdoor access. Let’s get real about this. When consumers think of organic certified that picture includes animals freely roaming outdoors on pasture. FDA’s new guidance document misleads consumers as well as confuses them as to what organic is allowed to be.
Having a noise cannon to play with might be fun! I wonder if you need a permit to own one and if there is a background check before you can buy one. Are they expensive? While you’re blasting away to scare wild birds off your hens will be taking shelter and shaking in their boots. I imagine you will have some mortality in your flock as your noise cannon scare your hens to death. I don’t think that using a noise cannon would be in the best interest to the welfare of your hens.
Utilizing “temporary” confinement until the threat of wild birds goes away might become permanent confinement as some wild birds don’t really go away. Netting to cover the outdoor access area would be an unrealistic approach. True organic includes maintaining soil health and is accomplished in part through pasture rotation. It would be way too costly and impossible for a real organic farmer to cover all pastures with netting. Maybe that is the aim of the recommendations – make it too costly to allow hens on pasture and they will switch to confinement!
It appears that nothing is sacred anymore. Ironically but not surprising is that the organic movement was scoffed at by industrial ag not so long ago dubbing it as coming from “left over hippies”. Now that organic has become a huge market it is something the big boys want into and to take over. It’s all about money and industrial ag knows that organic is big bucks these days as more consumers question where their food is coming from and how it’s raised.
This is not something new for industrial ag. Takeover is what they do best. Going back in history the same scenario can be seen when vertical integration and contract farming was ushered in and independent farmers were ushered out. History is repeating itself and the deck is being stacked in favor of industrial ag. Independent farmers had the choice of jumping aboard the train or get out of the business before the train runs you over. Will the same be said for the future of organics?