Legislation Could Ban Small Scale/Humane Production

Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2000
Joel Salatin, 540-885-3590

The Cornucopia Institute has announced their support for family farmers in their opposition to a legislative proposal in the state of Virginia that could eliminate the ability of the state’s residents to raise chickens and other fowl in the outdoors for eventual sale to consumers. The stated purpose of the controversial legislation, HR 982, is to control live bird markets–of which there are none in Virginia–but the Institute believes that it’s real purpose is to stop independent poultry producers from raising their flocks outdoors because federal officials are worried about an avian flu epidemic.

“This legislation is extremely troubling as consumers are increasingly hungry for organic and sustainable eggs and poultry that come from healthy birds raised outdoors,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic farming watchdog group. “The bill’s language is too vague and would allow the state’s Agricultural Commissioner to arbitrarily regulate and control small- to medium-sized poultry flocks, not just live bird markets, which currently don’t even exist in Virginia.”

Passage of the legislation by Virginia would make the state eligible for federal funding that could be used to hunt down outdoor poultry producers and lead to the shutdown of their operations.

“Nothing would make the huge poultry confinement operators happier than to squelch an increasingly popular competitor that consumers are flocking to,” Kastel added. “Consumers have discovered that the purveyors of organic and direct-market eggs and poultry raised in healthy, outdoor conditions offer a superior-tasting product, and that scares the huge confinement operations.”

Kastel noted that it was no coincidence that the bill was being pushed by the Del-Mar-Va Poultry industry, a giant industrial poultry cooperative, and by the state’s Agribusiness Council and the Farm Bureau. Organic and sustainable farming advocates are concerned that this legislative initiative in Virginia is just the first in a battle that will spread to statehouses around the nation.

Joel Salatin, a Virginia poultry farmer, is skeptical of the hype surrounding avian flu and domestic outdoor bird operations. “This has been an issue in Southeast Asia,” said Salatin, “because of the extraordinarily unsanitary conditions their fowl are raised in.” Pointing to China, Salatin explains that “because of theft, families typically confine 200 birds in an 8′ x 8′ cage with no bedding provided. The birds are living on six to eight inches of raw fecal build-up and locked in unhygienic squalor.”

These conditions in foreign lands stand in marked contrast to the way organic and sustainable growers raise poultry in the United States. Salatin calls his birds “pastured poultry” because his thousands of chickens and turkeys are moved on a daily basis to fresh pasture paddocks and allowed to exhibit their natural, instinctive behaviors. Salatin, who has raised poultry for 50 years, strongly criticizes regulators and health experts for failing to grasp this different agricultural style: “Nobody–not the World Health Organization, the European Union, or the USDA–has been willing to articulate the difference between clean outdoor housing and unhygienic outdoor housing.”

“Virginians should reject this ill-framed poultry proposal and allow its consumers and citizens freedom of choice in the food they want,” Salatin added.

If federal experts are truly concerned about an avian flu outbreak in poultry flocks, Kastel suggests they look elsewhere. “Historically,” Kastel observed, “Avian flu outbreaks have been concentrated in large, confinement, industrial-scale poultry facilities, where management is theoretically practicing stringent bio-security measures.”

Even before the latest flu scare, poultry industry lobbyists were advocating the change of organic poultry standards at the National Organic Standards Board by seeking removal of the federal requirement that organic birds have access to the outdoors. “Trade lobbyists were trying to gut federal law so that their clients can use their confinement practices,” noted Kastel. “Should the Virginia proposal pass, we think these same powerful forces will use it as a model for other states and try to achieve through the backdoor–and under cover of the avian flu scare–what they’ve been unable to get from the National Organic Standards Board.”

Consumers and farmers interested in more information on this issue, and contact information for sending messages to the Virginia legislature, can visit Cornucopia’s Web page at www.cornucopia.org.

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Individuals interested in more information or who want to take contact elected officials with their thoughts may click on this link to the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association athttp://www.vicfa.net/action.html

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