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(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) Under U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements, livestock certified as organic must have access to the outdoors, get fresh air and direct sunlight, and be able to engage in natural behavior. But in this investigative report, The Washington Post found that at a Michigan complex from which more than 1 in 10 organic eggs originates from, sold under the Eggland’s Best label, none of the birds is allowed to set foot outside. While the reporter was not allowed on the premises, people familiar with the operation said the 1.6 million birds are housed in nine rectangular barns, with more than three hens per square foot of floor space. The USDA allows such eggs to be sold as organic because officials have interpreted the word “outdoors” to include “porches,” which tend to be walled-in areas with a roof, hard floors, and screening on one side. The president of the farm, Greg Herbruck, says the hens are confined to the barns and porches for their own good. “The use of organic porches reflects Herbruck’s commitment to the hen health and food safety that our customers and consumers demand,” Herbruck said in a statement. “Porches keep the hens safe, allowing them to be outdoors while protecting them from wild birds like ducks and geese, and predators like vermin that spread disease and can hurt or kill hens.” But says Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association, allowing large egg operations to confine their hens creates an unfair advantage when smaller organic farms let their hens out and sustain higher costs. And most Americans purchasing such eggs think it means hens are allowed to go outside. As a result, this article notes, exactly what the USDA organic label on a carton of eggs means is unclear. Efforts to clear up the confusion have been met with delays. Objections from the largest egg operations and key Capitol Hill advocates have stalled a proposal that would have classified “porches” as indoors and set stricter requirements on indoor and outdoor space per bird. Advocates for letting birds outside say it allows them to do the things birds want to do. “We have a large pasture for the hens, and when we open the doors in the morning, they’re pushing to get outside,” said Wayne Martin, the owner of a family farm in Pennsylvania. “It’s what we’re required to do. It’s the right thing to do.”

Posted July 13th, 2017