Sorting through "USDA Organic" Deceptions..
From the Pastured Life April 28, 2021 Newsletter:
Sorting through "Organic Chicken" Deception..
In this newsletter, we are going to dive a little deeper than we normally do on issues very near and dear to our hearts. We have had many conversations with a lot of you out on our delivery routes, in email, and on the phone and normally the topics are the same regarding the differences in "Organic" products in the store and of course what we produce on our farm. Find reference links embedded below throughout. I would recommend going back to the links after reading the article fully.
First, let us discuss the problem with "Organic" Pastured poultry products in the store.
Under current USDA regulations, these are the three key criteria for all certified organic chickens:
1. No antibiotics or drugs, ever
2. Fed certified organic grains
3. Access to pasture
Seems easy enough, right?
Guidelines for Organic Poultry:
I'd like to let you in on a few dirty little secrets of the organic poultry industry. Let's unpack these one at a time.
First, let's tackle antibiotics & medications.
Did you know that over 2/3 of the world's supply of antibiotics is used for livestock?!?! I think we can all agree that excessive use of antibiotics is bad for animals, consumers, and the environment, and it's no coincidence that we're seeing a large recurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections like MRSA and antibiotic resistance even in young children as a result. The organic rules clearly state that the birds can not be fed or administered any drugs, including antibiotics and antiparasitic medications, but in giant confined poultry houses things like coccidiosis run rampant in flocks of 30K+. The poultry industry and pharmaceutical companies have found a loophole - vaccination programs are allowed. Now hatcheries can spray chicks with coccidiosis medications and simply call it a vaccination program to be in organic rule compliance.
That certainly doesn't sound like no drugs EVER to me.
Chick spray cabinets used to skirt the rules:
Second, and this is a BIG one.
Nearly 80% of the organic grain used in livestock production in the US is imported, and half of that grain travels through Istanbul, a port that is rampant with fraud. The USDA has acknowledged the fraud risks only after the Cornucopia institute completed a multi-year investigation into imported organic grain fraud. To make matters worse, in several countries or origin, the amount of acreage under organic certification did not correlate to the amount of grains and legumes produced. In some cases, the exported crop(s) exceeded nearly TWO TIMES the amount of acreage to produce said crops. You can read more about this here:
These problems aren't limited to import grain markets either. They happen here and schemes like this one make the news every couple of years, so it's getting harder and harder to know who to trust and when you can trust them.
In this case, the USDA was completely unaware, and the situation only came to light after a competitor grew suspicious based on abnormal prices and volume of organic corn and soy that he was moving exceeded the supply in their region.
This brings us to the third requirement: access to pasture.
We've all seen the packages of chicken in the store, each with its own images of chickens roaming on picturesque green pastures. The sad truth is, NONE of those chickens ever saw a blade of grass or chased a bug; and for many, the first and only time they ever saw the sun was on their ride to the factory for harvest. Organic chicken houses have tiny doors that open to sun porches, but they are seldom open - and with nothing other than dirt outside, there's little reason for a chicken to ever venture out. The National Organic Standard Board (NOSB) serves as an advisory board to the National Organic Program (NOP) who is in charge of rulemaking for the USDA's Organic program and FORTY of the board members of the NOSB have recently penned a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, and among their list of requests, is for the USDA's organic program to enforce the pasture rule for organic poultry. Stating that "public trust in the USDA organic seal is faltering due to highly public examples of poor enforcement of the pasture rule."
This is why it's never been more important to know your farmer. This is why we choose to buy our non-gmo feed directly from the farm that grows it. This is why we buy our day-old broiler chicks from a small, local hatchery that we can visit and know exactly where our chicks come from. This is why we raise our birds on pasture. Why? Because our family deserves this, our patrons deserve this and if you're paying $8.50 lb for "Greenwise" chicken at Publix or $9.00 for organic chicken at Whole Foods, you should get what you are paying for. Inspect what you expect and don't fall for the marketing and misdirection.