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Organic Egg Standards Just Got Better

The National Organic Standards Board voted to improve the living standards for egg-laying hens.  It’s not law yet, but it’s a start.

Free-Range and Organic

Currently, there is no legal definition of free-range and consumers pretty much have to trust what’s printed on the carton. Also, there is no legal requirement that organic hens have access to the outdoors.

Under the new rules, “free-range” will be folded into organic standards.

Minimum Space Requirements

To qualify for organic certification, a farm will have to have two square feet of outdoor space per chicken and two square feet of indoor space per chicken.

The outdoor space will need to be accessible to the chickens through exits large enough for more than one bird at a time to pass through.

The outdoor space will have at least 50% vegetative cover (pasture, shrubs, trees; it’s up to the farmer) and the space must include areas for dirt bathing both inside and outside.

What’s Next?

The new regulations will need to pass through a few more levels before becoming law. It’s likely that the large factory organic egg farms will have something to say about the space requirements.

One million hens will require fifty acres of indoor space and fifty acres of outdoor space. Reducing the space requirements is one of things included under the “efficiency” label that factory farms are so proud of.

The popularity of the free-range label shows that consumers will welcome this new rule. We’ll have to keep our eyes on it if we want it to become law.

Source:  Animal Welfare Documents, December 2, 2011

Photo of free range chickens in Nebraska via Shutterstock.