USDA Organic: Million Hens Filling Barns at Three per Square Foot

Did you know that more than 1 in 10 cartons of organic eggs in the US come from a complex which houses more than 1.6 million hens? They’re sold under the name Eggland’s Best Label.

Greg Herbruck, the president of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, said in a promotional video that the whole process is organic. However, why aren’t details from the operation available for the public?

And, why did he decline a request by a reporter from Washington Post citing the chance of possible flock infection with illness like the avian flu?

Are Hens Living in Terrible Conditions?

According to individuals who’re familiar with this operation and the building plan, every one of the nine long and rectangular barns at Herbruck’s holds around 180,000 birds or more than 3 hens per square foot of space.

These people spoke anonymously as they weren’t authorized to speak for the company.

What’s more, sources are saying that these birds can’t go outside. However, under USDA requirements, organic livestock needs to have regular access to direct sunlight and fresh air. According to their rules, ongoing confinement of any animals indoors is banned.

Organic livestock should engage in their natural attitude which for the chickens means foraging on the ground and looking for food, short flights, and dust-bathing.

What Do Experts Have to Say?

According to Katherine Paul from the Organic Consumers Association, the company’s attitude is betraying its consumers’ expectations. This isn’t what consumers expect from a farm that claims it’s organic.

She believes this is damaging the whole industry’s image and makes people wonder why they’re paying more for this.

She further explains that by allowing these large egg companies to close hens in barns, an unfair advantage is being made when smaller family organic operations let hens out and thus, have bigger costs.

The USDA allows this company and other larger ones to sell their eggs under the label ‘organic’ as officials have interpreted ‘outdoors’ in a way that farms close hens in barns, but put ‘porches’ and are thus, become eligible for this label.

However, these porches are walled-in areas that have hard floors, screening on one side, and a roof. Not the regular outdoor setting, right?

The USDA rules set no minimum of space per bird in terms of density in which organic livestock can live even though the regulations claim that henhouses should accommodate the animals’ natural behavior.

In order to increase the space in their henhouses, the company has installed 4 levels of metal shelves called aviaries.

What Does the Company Say?

According to company representatives, it’s misleading to claim that their hens are being kept at 3 per square foot of space.

But, they deny revealing the amount of space provided by the shelves. Similar to other organic egg producers that use porches, Herbruck noted that the hens are closed in the barns and porches for their wellbeing.

They claim that the usage of these porches is a reflection of their dedication to hen health and safety of the food their consumers demand.

They explain that the porches keep the birds safe and give them outdoor space while still keeping them safe from geese and ducks and predators that can spread illnesses or injure or kill the hens.

Sources:

REAL FARMACY

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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