Bell & Evans, an organic chicken producer based in Pennsylvania, has recently become the first USDA certified organic chicken hatchery with a focus on the humane treatment of animals in the U.S.
While antibiotics are prohibited for use in USDA certified organic livestock, a loophole allows routine use of antibiotics for unhatched chickens and for chicks in on the first day of their lives. This is an exception that exists only for poultry, according to Consumer Reports' Greener Choices.
“We designed our Hatchery with the highest level of animal welfare in mind, because 'low stress' is one of OUR organic standards,” writes the company in a news release, noting that unlike in other hatcheries, chicks at the new facility have immediate access to water and organic feed upon hatching and are never handled by machinery.
“The entire Hatchery experience is stress-free, and then the chicks move to the farms, where fresh new litter awaits them and the journey continues," the release explains. "Our humane animal welfare standards are upheld throughout the chickens’ entire lifespan.”
The hatchery was certified at the end of August, two days after its first chicks began to hatch, by Pennsylvania Certified Organic, a nonprofit accredited by the USDA. The company says the organic label represents many of the components of Bell & Evans' own chicken welfare standards, noting that its antibiotic-free chickens are fed American-grown organic grain with oregano oil, a natural antibacterial agent. In addition, only organic disinfectants are used in the company's facilities, as opposed to many other chicken producers, which use formaldehyde.
The company was inspired in part by practices in the Netherlands, which led to cooperation with Dutch companies HatchTech and Viscon Group to complete the $40 million, 160,000-square-foot facility.
“If the chicken has a good life, or a good environment to grow in, it will be good for us in the end,” said Joost ter Heerdt, commercial director of HatchTech.
At a press facility visit organized in June, Lebanon Daily News wrote that the new hatchery “looks like a modern industrial building with bright colors and off-beat architecture.” The building is capable of holding 1.5 million chicks.
This new project is in alignment with Bell & Evans’ already humane organic chicken raising protocols, endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States in 2010. Currently, chickens produced at Bell & Evans are slaughtered after being rendered unconscious by gas, something that Matthew Prescott, senior director of food policy for the Humane Society, tells Lebanon Daily News the Society is “calling on the entire poultry industry to do.”
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