Do you think eggs laid by free-range hens on small farms are healthier than those laid by confined birds in giant commercial operations? Well, the FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) disagrees. U.S. economic justice for the family-scale farming community advocate The Cornucopia Institute says on August 9 that new FDA requirements could make it harder for organic producers to give their hens outdoor access.

Cornucopia said that in July, the Food and Drug Administration released draft guidance to clarify how egg producers, including organic farmers with outdoor access, can comply with its 2009 egg safety rule aimed at reducing salmonella contamination in the nation’s egg supply.

“Since organic producers are required by federal standards to grant outdoor access to their laying hens, the guidance applies to all organic egg producers,” Cornucopia said. “The FDA, which collaborated with the USDA’s National Organic Program in promulgating their guidance, recognizes minute covered porches, which do not afford true and meaningful outdoor access to laying hens, as one of four possible organic production systems and thereby legitimizes their use.

“Already the focus of controversy and threatened lawsuits, the USDA has been widely criticized for allowing giant ‘organic’ factory farms, confining as many as 100,000 birds to a building, to skirt the requirements for outdoor access by employing tiny screened porches, often with a capacity of only 1-3% of the confined birds.  The USDA is currently allowing these giant poultry operations to claim these structures as the legally required “access to the outdoors.”

“This is collusion between two Obama administration agencies to significantly and permanently weaken the integrity of the organic standards,” says Mark Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute.

“By giving the OK to use covered porches as ‘outdoor access,’ and putting additional burdens on producers with legitimate outdoor runs or pasture, the recommendations in this food safety document decisively tilt the playing field to industrial-scale producers,” added Kastel.