Organic Doesn’t Mean Humane for Poultry

Do you want to eat poultry and eggs, but only if the birds lived and died humanely? Bad news: choosing “organic” poultry does not get you where you want to go. And good news: you have a chance to weigh in on stricter definitions for the organic label if you act this month.

The federal government regulates the standards companies must meet before they can label poultry “organic,” butthose standards mandate little in the way of humane treatment. The rules are: birds’ food must be organic; no hormones to promote growth; practices to prevent illness and treatment for illness are required, but no antibiotics; and year-round access to the outdoors is required.

Good food and medical treatment are important to humane treatment, as is access to the outdoors. But they are not nearly enough — for instance, they don’t prohibit the routine mutilation of chickens’ beaks without anesthesia or the painful force-feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras. Plus, reports from animal advocates indicate that even these paltry standards are often ignored.

United Poultry Concerns (UPC) reported the findings of an eyewitness on a certified organic farm in a February 11, 2004 paper titled “Free Range Poultry and Eggs”: the birds never set foot outside, and they were jam-packed into their barn.

UPC also notes the conclusions of the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, that “many ‘organic’ operators provide only tiny enclosed porches, with roofs and concrete or wood flooring, yet call these structures ‘the outdoors.’ Many of the porches represent just 3 to 5 percent of the square footage of the main building housing the birds. That means 95 percent or more of the birds have absolutely no access whatsoever. And these porches are missing one of the most important aspects of the outdoors for chickens: soil. They love pecking and scratching for food, building nests in the earth, and dustbathing, none of which are possible on concrete or wood flooring.

Needless to say, agribusiness strongly opposes expanding or strengthening enforcement of the humane provisions of the organic standard. Our voices are crucial to combat their pressure on the USDA.

In addition to strengthening the definition of “organic” to include humane treatment of poultry, we must call for more stringement enforcement of the new rules. Currently, the USDA outsources organic certification and inspection to external organizations. It must keep a tighter rein on those groups to ensure that the organic certification means what the USDA says it means, or handle the job itself.

At the end of May, the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the USDA, will meet to discuss the possibility of making organic standards for poultry more humane. Sign our petition to the NOSB urging them to make the “organic” label more meaningful.

Related Stories:

Many Restaurants Fake it as Demand for Organic Food Rises

Just How Organic Are Those Organic Eggs?

California to Crack Down on Organic Food Fraud

Photo credit: Omar Chatriwala


Erica B.
Erica B.4 years ago

I NEVER thought organic meant humane! It's two different things entirely!

1. Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms: organic matter.
2. Of, relating to, or affecting a bodily organ: an organic disease.
a. Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin: organic vegetables; an organic farm.
b. Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals: organic chicken; organic cattle farming.
c. Serving organic food: an organic restaurant.
d. Simple, healthful, and close to nature: an organic lifestyle.

The eggs I buy are organic, naturally nested. When I DO buy chicken (not often, I'm mostly vegetarian), it is labeled Certified Humane. If I can't get chicken that's truly raised humanely, I go without and get Boca Chik'n Patties. Sure, it's high in sodium, but that's better than eating a chicken that suffered for me! I just drink more water:-)

Hope Foley
Hope Foley4 years ago

In Australia, FREPA (free range eggs and poultry australia) do not allow beak trimming. In fact, their standards are very comprehensive. I don't think producers need their approval to say they are "free range" though... but they must undergo regular inspections to be accredited by FREPA and display the logo.

Carrie Anne Brown

signed, thanks for sharing :)

Kevin W.
Kevin W.4 years ago

To Marilyn, organic precludes gmo products, thus organic feed cannot contain gmo soy or corn. Hence, organic feed is more than twice the cost of standard feed, $28/50lbs vs $12.50/ 50 lbs.I keep laying hens and have for masny years. I treat them well and allow them to free range but that comes with its own set of problems which large scale produces simply can't deal with. Free range hens are subject to infestation from many parasites such as lice, mites and many types of worms. These parasites can only be "legally" treated with products labeled for that specific use on poultry. Because the vast majority of poultry in this country are not allowed to free range, there are very few products labeled for parasite treatment of poultry. The large scale producers would have no means of treating parasitic infestations, egg production would drop and eventually stop and the birds would eventually die.Small scale produces like myself treat their birds "off label" with products labeled for treating cattle or goats.We adjust the dosages accordingly and discard eggs for the reccommended period for discarding cattle or goat's milk after treatment. FDA and USDA regs would have to change for large scale egg producers to allow their hens to free range and egg prices would be substantially higher.

Mandy Harker
Mandy H.4 years ago

Signing now! Organic should be humane.

Waltraud U.
Waltraud U.4 years ago

From whom all that abusers were born and from whom they were teached to be able to handle that way is really astonishingly.


lis Gunn
lis Gunn4 years ago

The local Egg Board is attempting to label for consumer information "free range" eggs from hens on 20,000 birds per hectare. That is about one bird to a quarto sheet of paper. Hardly free range but egg producers maintain it is not economical for anything less. (Even the RSPCA - Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gives its tick of approval to inhumanely produced eggs and birds. Probably because it is legally powerless to do anything about the situation) At the same time organic poultry farmers are being pushed out altogether.

Unfortunately most consumers either don't care or are not prepared to pay for organic produce and the almighty $ profit motive seems to win again. Personally, I would prefer to pay for both organically farmed eggs and hormone free poultry. Obviously my ethics cost me more but I believe legal interventions are imperative to ensure both the treatment to the birds is human and the safety of the food we eat.

federico bortoletto

Grazie per la condivisione. Firmato e condiviso

Marianna B M.


Marianna B M.