Organic Consumers Association

Want Organic Eggs From Outdoor Hens? Better Act Now!

Take action! Rule-breaking "USDA Organic" egg producers don't let hens go outside!

The Food & Drug Administration says eggs from outdoor hens are a food safety risk!

Do you enjoy organic eggs from hens raised outdoors? Hens that spend time outdoors in the sunlight, eating plants and insects, roosting in trees and scratching in the dirt are healthier, happier and produce safer and more nutritious eggs on farms that are better for the environment. Sadly, outdoor production of organic eggs is being threatened by federal regulators. Soon it could be almost as hard to get eggs from hens raised outdoors as it is to get raw milk.

Please use the forms below to respond to the USDA National Oganic Program's refusal to enforce the organic rule that requires outdoor access and an FDA proposal that treats outdoor egg production as a food safety risk.

Hens caged in factory farms suffer horribly. Concern for animal welfare is one of top reasons consumers choose organic eggs. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is cage-free and this alone means organic hens have significantly better lives than those confined in cages. However, a 2010 investigation by the Cornucopia Institute, "Scrambled Eggs," (see the top video on this page) revealed that other organic rules, notably the requirement that hens have access to the outdoors, were being violated.

Born Free and Vital Farms are both certified "USDA Organic" egg brands, but, as you can see from the videos on this page, Vital Farms lets their birds outdoors, while Born Free doesn't. It's easy to see the difference in the welfare of organic chickens that are raised outdoors, as opposed to "cage-free".

This impacts consumers, too, as eggs from organic free-range hens raised outdoors are far more nutritious than eggs from hens kept indoors and raised on exclusively on grain.

The standards-setting National Organic Standards Board has sent three formal recommendations, one dating back to 2002, to the NOP asking the agency to clarify and enforce requirements for outside access and other living conditions for poultry. But the USDA National Organic Program refuses to act.

In a double strike against outdoor organic egg production, the NOP announced that, because other priorities were more urgent, it wouldn't be addressing the enforcement of animal welfare for poultry in the near future, and then, the FDA proposed to impose a number of costly, redundant and onerous so-called "food safety" measures on organic farmers who let their hens outdoors.

According to the Cornucopia Institute, despite weak scientific evidence that contact with wild birds is a significant risk factor for salmonella contamination, the FDA requires organic producers to minimize contact with other birds. The agency recommends noise cannons, temporary confinement, or netting, or even structures with roofs which would be cost-prohibitive for most organic producers with meaningful outdoor access.

Some of the recommended measures would discourage chickens from using the outdoor space. For example, while noise cannons would be effective in scaring wild birds, they would also scare the laying hens and effectively make the outdoor area an inhospitable environment for the organic birds.

The FDA's recommendation, which was created in consultation with the USDA National Organic Program, is encouragement to the so-called "organic" egg producers who are currently violating the organic rules that require famers to provide their hens outdoor access so they can exhibit their natural behaviors. 

“The recommendations in this draft guidance essentially give organic producers a textbook of excuses for why their birds can legally be confined in industrial settings,” says Mark Kastel, Codirector of the Cornucopia Institute. “To create the safest and most nutritious eggs, we should be encouraging more and better use of outdoor space, for laying hens so that they can exhibit their true, native behavior. But this FDA document does just the opposite.”

Want organic eggs from hens raised outdoors? You'd better act now! Please send the following letters (feel free to modify them with your own thoughts) to the USDA and FDA. And, while you still can, make a point of buying organic eggs that you know come from hens raised outdoors. Check out the Cornucopia Institute's Organic Egg Score Card and look for the Animal Welfare Approved label.