After two years of research from a 28-member scientific committee, poultry advocacy group Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) announced this week they have approved new standards for products that are labeled with their Certified Humane labels by releasing new definitions of "Free Range" or "Pasture Raised." There is currently no legal definition for "Free Range" or "Pasture Raised" in the United States, therefore these terms are often used on poultry packaging with no unilateral definitions for the consumer to trust.
This change in standards means that Certified Humane producers wishing to use the terms "Pasture Raised" or "Free Range" on packages must now meet the requirements of the newly defined categories.
HFAC has revised their laying hen standards, which now divide the "Free Range" section of the standards into "Pasture Raised" and "Free Range." The "Free Range" section was originally written for what is now defined as a "Pasture Raised" system; the revised standards add a third category for birds which are outdoors seasonally. Dr. Ruth Newberry, Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, chaired the Poultry Committee within HFAC's Scientific Committee.
The USDA's (and industry standard) definition for "Free Range" is that birds must have "outdoor access" or "access to the outdoors." In some cases, this can mean access only through a "pop hole," with no full-body access to the outdoors and no minimum space requirement.
HFAC's Certified Humane "Free Range" requirement is 2 square feet per bird. The hens must be outdoors, weather permitting (in some areas of the country, seasonal), and when they are outdoors they must be outdoors for at least 6 hours per day. All other standards must be met.
HFAC's Certified Humane "Pasture Raised" requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 square feet per bird) and the fields must be rotated. The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile or fixed housing where the hens can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or for up to two weeks out of the year, due only to very inclement weather. All additional standards must be met.
Pasture Raised and Free Range producers must meet all the standards in addition to those specific to the Pasture Raised and Free Range housing systems.
"Any product labeling terms that are important to consumers need to be clearly defined. The Certified Humane labeling program is in place to assure a trusted product for consumers who care about how animals are raised and slaughtered for food." said Adele Douglass, HFAC's Executive Director. "While it takes time for the entire industry to adapt best practices, we at HFAC have the opportunity to break ground, and we do so every year as we revise and raise our standards."
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