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FDA draft guidance document attacks pastured hen farms

Posted: September 5, 2013 |   Comments

( The Food and Drug Administration recently issued a draft guidance document that will make it all but impossible for farmers with 3,000 or more laying hens to keep the birds on pasture. The goal of this rule is to prevent the spread of salmonella from wild animals to the hens, despite the fact that all major incidents of salmonella in eggs have come from confinement factory farms.

The FDA issued a rule in 2007, requiring that farms with more than 3,000 hens must take extensive steps to address the risk of salmonella contamination, including testing both the birds and the hen houses. The FDA now has several years of data on where salmonella has occurred, but its new guidance document doesn't mention any cases of salmonella being connected to pastured hens.

Hens that are able to spend time outside receive more sunlight, exercise and diversity in their diet, making them healthier and able to produce more nutritional eggs than hens that are cramped indoors.

The FDA fears exposure to wild animals as the only significant health risk and suggests in its draft guidance document that farmers must cover outdoor pastures with roofing or netting or use noise cannons to scare away wild birds. There are obviously several problems with these suggestions: they are not based on evidence; they are cost-prohibitive; roofing a pasture would block rain and sunlight and defeat the purpose of raising hens in a pasture in the first place; and noise cannons that would scare away wild birds would also scare the laying hens.

Eggs labeled "organic" must come from birds with outdoor access, and FDA regulations allow large-scale factory farms that attach small "porches" to their facilities to label their eggs as such. The FDA clearly favors the mainstream approach, approving this practice while penalizing farmers who try to provide true access to pasture.

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