The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a new proposal about free-roaming chickens, and the many clucks that came in response are not exactly pleased. The new guidelines seek to reduce salmonella infection amongst birds by limiting their exposure to wildlife, but for farmers who are also trying to classify their animals as “free-roaming,” this turns into somewhat of a contradiction.
When chickens come in contact with other animals, such as mice, rats, and wild birds, their risk of exposure to salmonella bacteria increases. But when “the USDA National Organic Program regulations require that organic poultry have year-round access to the outdoors,” producers are put in a bind.
The USDA suggests fencing and even roofing outdoor pastures to keep chickens in and unwanted animals out. Of course, one can’t help but question exactly how ‘outdoor’ such environments are when they’re in essence completely closed-off.
Cameron Molberg, general manager of egg production at Coyote Creek Farm, uniquely looks at the situation from the chicken’s perspective: “A hen in a natural environment is less stressed, and she’s less likely to get sick.”
So while the new proposal may decrease salmonella risk, it will also make the life of a free-roaming chicken a little less free.