chickens

After more than two years of research, the 28-member Scientific Committee of Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) has announced standards for care in production of poultry products that claim to be either “Free Range” or “Pasture Raised.”

With no current legal definition for either declaration, poultry manufacturers may make claims on packaging that the products are either or both “Free Range” and “Pasture Raised”, even if the animals are kept indoors, with “access” to the outdoors that may be too small or too far away to offer an animal any real incentive to make her way towards the exit. “The USDA’s (and industry standard) definition for “Free Range” is that birds must have “outdoor access” or “access to the outdoors.”  In some cases, this can mean access only through a “pop hole,” with no full-body access to the outdoors and no minimum space requirement,” HFAC said in a statement.

Now, if poultry manufacturers wish to use the Certified Humane verified “Pasture Raised” or “Free Range” claims, they must comply with certain standards of care. “HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Free Range” requirement is 2 sq. ft. per bird. The hens must be outdoors, weather permitting (in some areas of the country, seasonal), and when they are outdoors they must be outdoors for at least 6 hours per day,” the group said in a statement. “HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 sq. ft. per bird) and the fields must be rotated.  The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile or fixed housing where the hens can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or for up to two weeks out of the year, due only to very inclement weather. All additional standards must be met.”

Setting a precedent for care of birds is a huge victory for the Certified Humane labeling program. “Any product labeling terms that are important to consumers need to be clearly defined. The Certified Humane® labeling program is in place to assure a trusted product for consumers who care about how animals are raised and slaughtered for food.” said Adele Douglass, HFAC’s Executive Director.  “While it takes time for the entire industry to adapt best practices, we at HFAC have the opportunity to break ground, and we do so every year as we revise and raise our standards.”

The group notes that there are currently three “Pasture Raised” egg companies on the program: Vital Farms (Austin, TX), White Oak Pastures (Bluffton, GA) and Ayrshire Farm (Upperville, VA).  The only 100% “Free Range” company so far, is Happy Egg Company (San Francisco, CA).

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Compassion in World Farming