US welfare organisation, Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), has announced new standards for products that are labelled Certified Humane and either "Free Range" or "Pasture Raised."
There is currently no legal definition for "Free Range" or "Pasture Raised" in the United States, therefore the terms are often used on poultry packaging with no unilateral definitions. HFAC's 28-member Scientific Committee has spent nearly two years reviewing all of the current research, which has resulted in new standards for the Certified Humane label.
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. 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.
Dr. Ruth Newberry, Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, chaired the Poultry Committee within HFAC's Scientific Committee. The Scientific Committee, and the producers had input and the Standards Committee did the final review. That process included review of animal research and visits to farms to review various outdoor systems.
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 sq. ft. 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 sq. ft. 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.
"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," said Adele Douglass, HFAC's executive director.