USDA reassures poultry farmers that their organic status is safe if birds moved indoors to avoid flu

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

USDA reassures poultry farmers in face of avian flu

Related tags: Organic farming

USDA encourages organic poultry farmers in areas where outbreaks of avian flu have been reported recently to bring their birds inside, and reassures them that doing so will not risk their organic status, according to a memo released this week. 

“Certified organic poultry operations must establish and maintain preventative livestock health care practices, which may include temporary confinement under conditions where the health, safety or well-being of the animals could be jeopardized,”​ such as in the case of recent avian flu outbreaks, according USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, which enforces organic regulations.

In response to questions from farmers about confining organic poultry flocks due to the avian flu outbreaks, AMS says in the April 3 memo that it understands the concerns of poultry producers and “temporary confinement can be done without compromising the organic status of the certified operation.”

AMS says it “supports bringing the birds inside on a temporary basis in areas in proximity to the recent [avian flu] detections in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia,”​ and it directs producers to work with their certifying agents to determine the proper method and duration of confinement.

The current outbreak of highly pathogentic H7 avian flu was first detected in March at a Tennessee-based poultry facility under contract with Tyson Foods, and resulted in the destruction of 73,500 birds in an effort to contain the virus.

Could organic techniques protect against avian flu?

Even as the outbreak is impacting organic farmers, some critics of conventional animal farming say that if organic methods were followed in the first place, the outbreak could have been avoided.

“This outbreak is a prime example of why food animal producers should be looking to organic and humane practices,”​ Cameron Harsh, senior manager of organic and animal policy at the Center for Food Safety, said in a written statement following the first outbreak.

“Dark, confined, poorly-sanitized space that pack animals to the brim and provide no access to the outdoors are ideal environments for the rapid spread of devastating viruses like bird flu,”​ Harsh added.

Potential impact on brands

Animal welfare concerns are becoming increasingly important to consumers, making situations such as this, which shine a light on how livestock is treated, potentially damaging to brands.

It also could result in ingredient shortages that pressure manufacturers to either reformulate​, pay higher prices that tighten margins or impact supply chain and production flow in other ways. 

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