EAST LANSING, Mich. — Many consumers don’t understand organic labelling on produce or other farm products. Michigan State University Extension wants consumers to understand where their food comes from and be informed about how production systems result in food label information. What does the organic label on a product like eggs mean for the hens that lay the eggs? It is important to understand that behind the organic label are federally-enacted standards, inspectors, certification processes, record-keeping, monitoring and farmers who are working to keep their birds and the products from those birds eligible for organic labelling.
Organic production for eggs
According to an article from eXtension by Jim Riddle, food production systems that are certified organic must meet the federal regulations and guidelines of the National Organic Program (NOP) and this includes poultry and eggs (as poultry products). To be considered organic, birds must be maintained following organic standards from the second day after hatching. All agricultural components of the feed must also be 100 percent organic or produced in a way that meets organic standards.
Living conditions for the hens
All poultry must have access to the outdoors as part of their living conditions. Specifically outlined in the living conditions are the following: clean bedding, access to clean water, fresh air, exercise areas, sunlight and shade which is suitable for the lifecycle, climate and environment. Farmers are able to keep birds inside only because of specific threats to their health such as those from inclement weather conditions or possible predation.
Organic standards for feed and treatment
Organic production standards for all livestock, including laying hens, prohibits the use of growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, animal cloning and the feeding of slaughter by-products. If an animal requires medical treatment that includes antibiotics, the treatment cannot be withheld to maintain the organic status of the bird. In addition, birds must be protected by preventing contact with prohibited substances or non-organic products. A bird that comes into contact with a non-organic product or that must receive medical treatment, cannot be marketed as organic and neither can any of its products, such as eggs. To receive and maintain organic certification, detailed records of all feeds, medications and transactions must be kept by the farm.
In addition to these standards, poultry and poultry products are inspected to insure animal welfare, food safety including production and handling and more. Learn more about these efforts from MSU Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.