USDA Overturns Rule Requiring Outdoor Space for Organic Hens

A rule change under the Obama Administration, required egg producers using the label “USDA Organic” to provide real outdoor space for hens, rather than enclosed porches. The Trump administration just reversed that.

“Outdoor” porch at one of America’s largest organic egg farms in Saranac, Michigan.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has long required organic egg producers to give their hens “access” to the outdoors. Many large brands have created a loophole to this requirement by providing tiny doors leading to small, enclosed outdoor “porches.”

Many of these “organic” chickens — packed in barns with up to 200,000 other chickens — never see the light of day. In other words, about half the organic eggs in the country come essentially from factory farms.

A new USDA rule passed under the Obama administration closed this loophole, clarifying that organic hens must be given real outdoor space, at least two square feet per chicken, and that porches don’t count.

This means farms like Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Michigan (which “houses” 2 million hens) and Cal-Maine Foods (“home” to 36 million hens) had 5 years to find outdoor space for their chickens or to change their label from “organic” to “cage-free” eggs.

Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, Saranac Michigan. One of the country’s largest producer’s of organic eggs.

The Trump administration is now announcing plans to overturn the rule-change.

Shortly after Trump came into office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put the rules on hold. Both Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and the committee’s senior Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, have called on the USDA to revise the new rules. Stabenow, who represents Michigan, has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from members of the Herbruck family.

Now the administration says that it plans to withdraw the regulation entirely because it “would exceed USDA’s statutory authority.”

Small organic chicken farmers whose chickens are given real earth to roam on promise to fight the move in court. They and the Organic Trade Association pushed for the rule amendment in the first place, claiming it wasn’t fair that large-scale factory farms got to use the same label — organic — that they work so hard for.





64 responses to “USDA Overturns Rule Requiring Outdoor Space for Organic Hens”

  1. Jack Avatar

    Please explain ‘pasture raised’ vs organic. This imfo NEEDS TO BE CLEAR FOR CONSUMERS regardless of d law. I never knew this imfo regarding organic
    I been buying only pasture raised with the assumption this is most natural

    1. Craig Avatar

      Well it’s also a secret that pesticides are allowed in organic farming. The organic industry passes the organic label off as pesticide free.

      1. Stephen Avatar

        As a grower for Cal-Maine I am not allowed to use pesticides.

    2. Mischell Avatar

      Pasture raised means they are allowed to roam free most of the time but organic means they not given antibiotics and their food is free from antibiotics as well. However most of them never see outdoors. you can still have pasture raised organic which combines both methods

    3. Jackie Avatar

      Unfortunately many of these labels are for show and mean little to nothing. “All natural” literally has no requirements and no meaning. “Cage free” can simply be an overcrowded shed where chickens are still piled on top of each other, unable to live even a semblance of a natural life. It’s all about hooking the consumer with the idea that they are doing less harm, even if they’re really not. The only true way to not support animal abuse in the meat and egg industry is to A)not eat it B)only support small local farms that you can see how the animals are treated or C)raise your own. Chickens make great pets!

      1. Barbara Avatar

        Agree 100%!

    4. Marie Avatar

      IMO pasture raised is grass fed with little or no grain added to diet. Not sure how this would work for hens, but pasture raised cattle sheep goats and pork this is the standard. Free Run means raised not in a small cage, stanchion or crate as pigs are. These animals or birds, may be housed in artificially lit barns with very little space per animal, or may be kept in feedlots outdoors the same little space/animal and fed a grain based (vegetarian) diet. Free range means the animals are kept or have access to natural sunlight and fresh air….the outdoors, but this may still mean crammed dry lots and grain based feeds. Pasture raised is to mean animals and birds have daily access, weather/season permitting, to the outdoors, and grass to eat lie in, scratch for bugs etc. They may also be supplemented with grain diets. Grass fed is exclusively pasture raised on grass and forage diet.

  2. Patti Avatar

    we’ll be back to worrying about the Bird flu 🙁

    1. Tim Avatar

      Uh, bird flu is more likely outdoors where they can be exposed to the virus. Also if you’ll read the article they weren’t doing it yet anyway.

  3. Kay Farmer Avatar

    Did someone make up a list of everything President Obama did just so the piece of shit Trump could overturn even the tiniest of positives? What vindictive bastards the Republicans are. That is okay, their reign of terror will come to an end.

    1. SGB Avatar

      I think that, in this case, it is politics and ignorance rather than vindictiveness behind the action. “Oraganic” has become a joke. Pastured eggs come from chickens taken outside, I hope. I have just about decided that, given the weakening of the term, I won’t buy them in the future.

    2. Brett Avatar

      Did you miss the part about the Democrat from Michigan helping to lead the charge? Until people stop blamaing the otherside, were all fucked open your eyes democrats are as bad as republicans

      1. Debra Avatar

        I completely agree, We need too stop this us and them bullshit we are ALL Americans period, and if you fall in their trap of us verses them then your just one the sheep who’ll follow anything. Congress has been bought out by the big time Lobbyists which our previous POTUS had promised in his campaigne that he was going too do away with and he did Nothing, so too me the whole kit and kabootle is a bunch of crooks all out for themselves period. Its the oober rich verses the poor and guess who is going too win here…

      2. Patricia Favreau Avatar
        Patricia Favreau

        The article states that Debbie Stabenow has taken huge contributions from the poultry business. She was not excused for doing this. Stop trying to make this political just because the majority of the bad guys are republican. Anyone can be a villain for enough money.

    3. Tunes Avatar

      if you read the article, the dems were part of this too

      1. Maddy Avatar


    4. Liz Avatar

      Not soon enough. Eventually, he’s going to piss off the wrong person, or group of people,who don’t care about their personal safety, who will take him down.

    5. Dee Avatar

      @Kay Farmer, appears we also have a democrat, Debbie Stabenow in the committee that received campaign contributions from a major Herbruck’s Poultry Rancher to squash the Obama era regulation when Trump took office. Your right Trump has an agenda to undo everything Obama did out of spite and evilness.

      1. Dee Avatar

        I hate this political horse sh_t people that seek office for the people lie to us and work for their backers interest instead,,,,,,it’s a joke!

    6. Mary Avatar

      Seems that way.

  4. Michael Hoyt Avatar
    Michael Hoyt

    Less regulation is always a win for freedom. Consumers are not forced to buy from producers which only conform to government regulations; great producers will always exceed the regs imposed by the tyrants.

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      Yeah, but if consumers are led to believe the label “USDA Organic” means animals are allowed outdoors, and our tax dollars pay for that label, mega farms shouldn’t be allowed to create loopholes to that rule and still use the label.

      1. Dawn Avatar

        How exactly, are our tax dollars paying for something to be labeled organic?

        1. Sara Burrows Avatar

          Your tax dollars pay for the USDA to exist. Part of heir job is to label food, thus the label “USDA Organic.”

          If according to their own rules, organic chickens should have access to the outdoors, they should not allow loopholes.

      2. Laura Avatar

        It would be nice if people didn’t create definitions for words. Organic doesn’t mean that the critter is allowed outdoors. I agree with less regulations and to let the consumer use their intelligence and do a little homework. Most of us have a cell phone so it is quite easy to look up brands.

        1. Sara Burrows Avatar

          Actually by the USDA’s own rules, organic includes the assurance that the chickens are given outdoor access. The porches were an unintended loophole.

      3. Jenna Avatar

        When you buy Organic eggs, there is ZERO say anywhere about livig conditions. Organic doesnt mean free-range, open outside air coops…it means they are fed Organic feed and no antibiotics, etc. But LOCAL and these petty laws dont matter.

        1. Sara Burrows Avatar

          Actually by the USDA’s own rules, organic includes the assurance that the chickens are given outdoor access. The porches were an unintended loophole.

      4. Craig Avatar

        Consumers are also led to believe the USDA Organic label means pesticide free which it is not.

      5. R Alexander Avatar
        R Alexander

        What is the definition of “USDA Organic”?

      6. Mare Avatar

        1)Pasture Raised should mean the chickens go outside of the barn and have access to a pasture which is “land covered with grass and other low plants suitable for grazing animals, especially cattle or sheep”. 2)Organic should mean the food and water the chickens get is free from artificial additives, ie: chemicals,insecticides, pesticides, hormones, drugs, artificial insemination. 3)The packages of eggs should identify the farms the eggs come from and provide links with pictures and/or videos showing how the chickens live. 4)The USDA should provide internet access to the date the farms were inspected and list infractions, as well as the actions taken and the date to resolve the issues. No one should be keeping secrets, hiding or misleading anything. This is our food, that goes into our bodies, that we feed our children. Keep everything open and honest. Secrecy should be forbidden.

        1. Mare Avatar

          Just to clarify, regarding “Organic”I meant the chickens should be free from everything artificial including artificial insemination. I did not mean to imply that was included in their food.

    2. Donna Avatar

      Nobody was forcing consumers to buy anything. Consumers were able to make an educated decision and farmers had an added incentive to treat animals humanely and produce a healthier product for the public. Government regulations can be used for good!

    3. Anja Avatar

      Freedom for whom? Funny how it usually works out to the disadvantage of citizens who have to live with contaminated air, water, earth and food because of lack of regulations.
      Calling factory chickens organic is a win for the producer, while the customers are bamboozled.

    4. Diana Avatar


    5. Alan Centa Avatar
      Alan Centa

      Freedoms should not include the misrepresentation of products and especially food. If organic is to mean anything other than carbon based we need regulation.

    6. Dee Avatar

      @ Michael Hoyt, The point regulations is consumer protection from big industry lies and deception for bigger profits. If greedy motives weren’t at play, regulations wouldn’t be needed!!!!! Free range/organic people are willing to pay extra for but don’t want it caged with thousand’s and no room to roam. You understand the meaning of free range ???? Obama regulations just defined it in order to qualify on the label. We are just going backwards not forward with Trump.

  5. Lor Jo Wood Avatar
    Lor Jo Wood

    Organic to me as someone who has my own hens, is no chemical in there feed. Indoor outdoor. If they get the right, feed I raise earthworms for them so they still get the bugs but the dont free room so the hawks dont get them.

  6. Adam Avatar

    Wonder how many have ever been in one of these commercial poultry farms. I have and in no way make any form of income from them but I was impressed by the conditions that the chickens got to live in. Especially with raising my own barn yard flock that is completely free range.. my free hens choose to roost and eat the nastiest of nasty including following each other and other farm animals to eat each other’s poo etc. The commercial farmers have sporadic inspections from different groups to be sure they treat the animals well. I have found the less people know about chickens the more fear they have about the buisness. I’m sure there are exceptions but try to be aware of your news sources bias. The same people who have gone after hunters have been going after farmers.. and I am certain that the truth isn’t anywhere near as bad as they would have you believe.

    1. Sandi Nemeskay Avatar
      Sandi Nemeskay

      Thank You! Nice to see someone else who’s actually been to a big chicken farm. I have also and was also extremely impressed with how things work.

  7. Mic Avatar

    Overturned a rule that was never enacted under the Obama administration, BIG news here…yawn

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      First of all, you don’t enact rules. You just make them. It was in effect. They had 5 years to comply. Trump’s administration is ordering the USDA to revoke the rule.

  8. Julia Avatar

    But your chickens are free range under the same sky and you eat their eggs and meat??

  9. Rose Avatar


  10. Craig Avatar

    Chemtrails are not a thing. Just saying…..

  11. Zack Freckles Avatar
    Zack Freckles

    Less regulation in this case is a loss for our health. I want to know how my food is raised. Don’t you want to know what organic means?

  12. Marty Avatar

    Pasture raised organic eggs rule is 128 sq ft per bird OUTSIDE.

  13. Cryssy Avatar

    Please put the proper information in your articles.
    If it was actually overturned, there would be a vote, congressional number for the bill, date of activity, etc.
    Your headline indicates it’s been overturned, but then your article just says it’s been “called for”.
    Very misleading. Basically lying to draw attention.
    Kills your credibility 100%

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      You don’t need to vote on bureaucratic rules. It’s not a bill. It has nothing to do with congress. The USDA is a bureau, an agency, made up of unelected officials that make their own rules with the guidance of those in office. Trump’s administration has guided them to change the rules back.

      Your lack of understanding of how bureaucratic rules are different from laws kills your credibility.

      1. Shirley Avatar

        Thank you Sara

  14. Peter Avatar

    Trump will be out soon and all that was overturned by him will be put back. Be patient

    1. Tina Avatar

      Good luck with that

  15. BA Avatar

    Organic doent mean outdoors it means chemical and antibiotic free. Cage free does not mean organc, some cage free farmers trwat chickens w vaccines and antibiotics.

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      “USDA Organic” rules have always stated chickens must have access to the outdoors. The porches were an unintended loophole.

  16. Bryon Dawkins Avatar
    Bryon Dawkins

    With all of that being said just makes me want to get my chicken coop built even faster and start raising my own damn chickens and not even worry about buying eggs from a grocery store again. I am currently buying eggs from a lady that does let chickens run free on her property so I know they are completely cage free and organic and they are the best eggs. So I pronounce to everyone if you are able to do the same thing then go for it, most people raising chickens will usually have some for sale. I do drive a little ways out of the way to get them but again they are worth it.

  17. Angie Avatar

    Small organic chicken farmers whose chickens are given real earth to roam on promise to fight the move in court. They and the Organic Trade Association pushed for the rule amendment in the first place, claiming it wasn’t fair that large-scale factory farms got to use the same label — organic — that they work so hard for.” So now you all know how it feels when we work hard for our money and give it to people who don’t !

  18. S Avatar

    Inside or outside doesn’t matter it’s nanoparticle

  19. Gretchen Avatar

    I say.. buy a few chickens and raise them….

  20. Clint Staaf Avatar
    Clint Staaf

    “Black is white, and indoors is outdoors”, “1984” +33yrs and one T.Rump, un-President.

  21. Scott Smith Avatar
    Scott Smith

    If you folks are that worried about where your eggs come from then raise them yourselves, that is what we do. 10 chickens on a half acre HOA. Haven’t bought eggs in three years and never worry about where they come from and our backyard gets great free range fertilizer, haha!

  22. Marc Avatar

    Which is why i always look for a humane care certification i trust as well.

    An educated consumer can’t find every bad egg, but we can make decent decision if we pec at the details. Feather your nests with knowledge folks!

    Alright ive had my fun, im out

  23. Holly Avatar

    1. Know your farmer, know your food. If you rely on labels upon which you have not spent any time educating yourself to their meaning, you are ignorant.

    2. Do you REALLY think that President Trump himself cares about this issue? REALLY? The author certainly would like to blame the President of the United States for how eggs are labeled? He may have a lot of power, but good grief people do you think he is using it to tend to the issue of egg labeling?

  24. ms Avatar

    GO VEGAN GO VEGAN — If you must use animals & their products PLEASE buy from “CERTIFIED HUMANE RAISED & HANDLED” businesses — Why? — Because such farms ensure animals are happy & comfy from Day #1 — I cannot bear the thought that animals are put through such torture 24/7 — it’s cruel, it’s unconscionable to allow animals to suffer in this way, especially since we can CHOOSE for them NOT to suffer — only PSYCHOS treat their animals as if they were stuffed animals — who, in their right mind, wants to support PSYCHOS? — I DO NOT — Please pay a visit to HFAC.

  25. Carol Presley Avatar
    Carol Presley

    I buy organic here in Canada. If Obama did that re the eggs he also signed a bill to allow Monsanto to continue spreading it’s toxic poison into the U.S. food chain as well, even though Michelle grew organics in their garden. Talk about hypocrisy.