But today, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has filed a lawsuit against the USDA arguing that the legal definition of organic isn’t evenly applied across the poultry industry. The part of the definition that’s specifically coming under scrutiny is the word “outdoors.” According to some bigger poultry farmers, “outdoors” means screened in. “It’s kind of like your screened porch on your house,” Greg Herbruck, president of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Saranac, MI, which has 2.2 million hens, told National Public Radio. “When you go out there, you’re outside. You’re protected from the rain. In this case, we protect [the chickens] from disease and from predators.”
However, members of the OTA, which represents smaller organic farmers, don’t think “screened in” counts as outdoors—and in 2016, the USDA agreed. The regulations, which were implemented at the end of the Obama administration, said that “farmers must provide each hen with at least 2 square feet of outdoor space.
When the Trump administration took power, however, they stayed the implementation of all government regulations, including this one that protected the welfare of organic livestock. This is why large farms that keep hens screened in are able to call their operations “organic,” even though that’s not what the Obama-era regulations state. And in this new lawsuit, the OTA alleges that the reputation of organic food is at risk because what is happening on the farms is not what is stated in the regulations, and the smaller farmers who are giving their chickens enough space are being penalized by government inaction.