FDA Wants to Manage How Free-Range Chickens Are Contained

Regulation could end up hurting large-scale pastures


Organic egg farmers are divided in their reaction to a new FDA that, if adopted and enforced, could require canopies and fences to separate free-roaming chickens from wild birds and rodents.

The proposal is intended to reduce the risk that chickens will pick up salmonella bacteria from wildlife and lay contaminated eggs. In practice, depending on its interpretation, the regulation could shut down large-scale pastures for egg-laying chickens.

The FDA's distrust of outdoor lifestyles for chickens is based on showing that wildlife and their droppings often carry salmonella bacteria. For that reason, the FDA issued rules back in 2009 ordering farms to keep all mice, rats and wild birds out of chicken houses.

But what if your chickens don't stay indoors? Organic eggs, for instance, are required to come from chickens that have "access to the outdoors" at all times. How can a farmer keep them separate from wildlife?