Organic egg production
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Organic egg production is the production of eggs through organic means. In this process, the poultry are fed organic feed. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, organic means that the laying hens must have access to the outdoors and cannot be raised in cages. Chickens cannot be genetically modified; nor can their feed be. Organic egg producers cannot use antibiotics except during an infectious outbreak. Only natural molting can occur within the flock; forced molting is not allowed. Organic certification also requires maintenance of basic animal welfare standards.
Differences between "free range" and "organic"
Significant differences cover feed, medication, and animal welfare. Organic hens are fed organic feed; it is prohibited to feed animal byproducts or GMO crops – which is not disallowed in free range environments; no antibiotics allowed except in emergencies (in free range, it is up to the farmer, but the same levels of antibiotics as conventional farming is allowed); required animal welfare standards in organic farms are higher, which can improve the quality of both the eggs and the meat. In the European Union (EU), to identify and trace egg production, a unique code must legally be printed on all eggs. A “0” code distinguishes organic farming eggs.
Organic feed is grown without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. It is often grown by certified organic farmers, whose practices are monitored for three years prior to being certified organic. If the crop is contaminated by cross-fertilization with GMOs, it is rendered useless for organic grading. Finally, there can be no animal by-products in organic feed.
In the United States, "organic" egg production means that the flock may not live in cages and must have access to outdoor areas.
Some farms induce molting in their flocks to affect egg production. In organic egg farms, the birds are allowed to go into a natural molt but are not induced.
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Similar to all other forms of egg production in the United States, organic production is also regulated by animal welfare audit system. Mistreatment of the chickens could potentially lead a farmer to losing their organic certification. Thus some of the arguments from animal activist organizations that egg production is cruel and inhumane do not necessarily apply to organic raised hens. On the other hand, male chicks who are born on organic or free-range egg farms are still discarded, by the use of lethal gas, because they do not produce eggs. The American Organic Standards still allow beak trimming as a means to lessen injury to the birds.
- United States Code of Federal Regulations; 7 CFR 205.239 (a)(1)