United Poultry Concerns March 6, 2003

“Free range has become a meaningless term,”

- Scott Jondle, chicken farmer.

Gannett News Service, Elizabeth Weise, March 1, 2003

Federal loophole is undermining organic standards.
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's 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 that it plans to build porches off the barn to meet the outdoor-access requirement. In October, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the federal organic guidelines, took the unusual step of authorizing the producer to use the organic label anyway. A spokesman for Massachusetts Independent Certifiers Inc. says it will file a complaint 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. "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," says Rangan

Scott Jondle, who runs Abundant Life Farm in Polk County, raises laying hens and broilers by organic methods. The chickens spend their time foraging for insects in pastures. He prefers calling his birds "pasture raised" because "free-range" poultry may include birds that rarely have access to grassy fields. "Free range has become a meaningless term," Jondle said. Some confinement operators will put a side door on their poultry barns so birds can wander into a fenced area, he said. They may call their birds free range, Jondle said, but they're really not. The local farmer said his birds are healthier– and tastier– than those raised by conventional methods. Jondle, however, hasn't bothered getting his farm certified organic. He said paying a fee for the right to put an organic label on Abundant Life's products isn't worth the money. Most of Jondle's customers buy directly from the farm, and he encourages them to tour the farm and ask questions. "We don't have to rely on a little sticker," Jondle said.

Consumer groups complain the federal organic program, which took 12 years to create, has become stacked with exemptions. When the president signed the government's annual spending bill last week, he was also authorizing a loophole to the organic program's requirement that all organic livestock be fed 100-percent organic feed. The amendment, which took effect immediately, directs 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 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. "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," he says. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., plan to launch a repeal effort.

Caption: Buff orphington , barred rock and Rhode Island red chickens forage at the Abundant Life Farm outside Dallas on Friday afternoon . Organic poultry requirements mandate that the chickens must have access to fresh air and sunlight. Although this farm is not certified organic, it's using humane methods above and beyond federal organic requirements.

See also end of: http://www.bayarea.com/mld/cctimes/5319902.htm

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
FAX: 757-678-5070

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