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"The organic eggs in your grocery store are supposed to come from chickens that have year-round access to the outdoors. That's according to long-standing organic regulations. But a huge battle has erupted over what "access to the outdoors" actually means. And it's now led to a lawsuit: The Organic Trade Association, which represents most organic food companies, is suing the government, demanding that it implement new rules that require organic egg producers to give their chickens more room to roam. On one side of this battle, there are a few large-scale organic egg producers, such as Herbruck's Poultry Ranch in Saranac, Mich. They believe that "access to the outdoors" means that the chickens get to live in houses with screened-in porches...It's a situation that angers hundreds of other organic egg producers, with smaller operations, who have their hens running around outside...George Siemon, CEO of the Organic Valley cooperative, which requires its egg producers to give their hens more outdoor space, says this is what consumers want, and it's also a fundamental part of organic agriculture. "It needs to be a whole system that features the bird's basic needs, and there's no doubt that a hen wants to be outside scratching in the ground," he says. Siemon and like-minded organic producers have been trying, for more than a decade, to revise the rules covering organic animals. And in the very last days of the Obama administration, they thought they'd reached their goal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave final approval to a new regulation that — among many other things — requires organic egg producers to provide real outdoor space — roughly 2 square feet — for each egg-laying hen. Porches don't count. The rule gives egg producers five years to adapt to the new requirements. Very large-scale producers like Herbruck's Poultry Ranch probably would not be able to meet those requirements, and would have to sell their eggs instead simply as "cage-free."...When the Trump administration took office, it put the new standard on hold and suggested that it might even be withdrawn. The Organic Trade Organization now is going to court, demanding that the government step aside and let the new rules take effect. "We just feel that we've waited too long," Siemon says."

Posted September 13th, 2017
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