In short, no, pastured poultry and organic certification represent different aspects of the poultry industry.
Pastured poultry refers to a farming method for raising chickens, eggs, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas. On the other hand, organic certification is a marketing label overseen by the USDA, requiring annual certification to ensure producers adhere to program guidelines. However, being certified organic does not necessarily mean following pastured poultry principles.
Pastured poultry embodies outdoor production on lush, vegetated pastures with regular movement of the birds to fresh pasture. Sadly, these fundamental principles are absent in around 90% of certified organic chicken, turkey, and eggs available in the market today.
When consumers come across chickens, turkeys, ducks, or geese raised on pasture, they often assume it is organic. However, the reality is that organic confinement chicken and turkey houses closely resemble their non-organic confinement animal feeding operation (CAFO) counterparts.
While outdoor access is technically possible in the CAFO organic model (often criticized as industrial organics), most birds never experience sunlight until they are loaded onto trucks for transportation to processing plants. The "outdoor access" provided in this setup often consists of small concrete runs or screened-in porches. These areas are inefficient and fail to meet the founding expectation of organic practices, which should continuously strive to build and improve soil health.
Some pastured poultry producers may hold organic certification, but in general, their farming practices go beyond the minimum requirements of certified organic poultry.
You may encounter many pastured poultry producers claiming to raise "beyond organic" chicken and eggs. This claim is intended to highlight the deficiencies of the national certification program, which allows large commercial chicken companies to raise certified organic poultry in a manner nearly identical to the non-certified products you are seeking to avoid.
Pastured poultry stands apart
The common practices employed by pastured poultry farms surpass "industrial" certified organic poultry in terms of animal welfare, soil regeneration, and support for local economies.
Purchasing certified organic poultry is not a negative choice, and if certification is important to you, consider finding a local farm that practices the pastured poultry model in addition to being certified.
Approximately 10% of pastured poultry flocks possess organic certification. However, many small-scale pastured poultry producers like us easily comply with organic regulations but choose not to certify due to concerns about the enforcement of standards.
The most reliable way to ensure that your chicken, eggs, turkey, duck, or goose products meet your expectations is to buy directly from a local farm. Request a tour from the farmer and establish a trusting relationship with them.
By seeking out locally available pasture raised options, you can enjoy the taste and nutrition you desire while supporting farming practices that prioritize animal welfare, soil health, local economies, and community connections.