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ARS Poultry Farm Gains Organic Certification

By Sharon Durham
May 12, 2010

Organic certification has been given to a poultry research facility operated by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Fayetteville, Ark. It's one of the first such facilities for poultry research in the United States.

Scientists at the ARS Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit started developing the agency's Organic Poultry Research facility last year and were granted certification in February 2010.

Research associate Anne Fanatico and research leader Annie Donoghue will use the facility to examine ways of using natural compounds to reduce food borne pathogens and diseases in poultry. They have taken the lead as part of a group of researchers across the country to study these compounds for organic poultry.

Food safety concerns with Salmonella and Campylobacter are high priority areas for organic poultry producers. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of safe, effective and approved organic treatments to prevent and treat health problems in organic flocks.

Results of collaborative studies with the University of Connecticut and the University of Arkansas, research have indicated that natural compounds such as caprylic acid--a fatty acid naturally found in milk and coconuts--and essential plant extracts all have antimicrobial efficacy against poultry enteric pathogens. These compounds could provide solutions to address food safety concerns in organic production systems.

Fanatico and Donoghue have also formed the Organic Poultry Advisory Board so they may directly work with organic producers to solve pathogen and disease issues on an organic poultry farm.

The state-of-the-art organic poultry research facility was developed collaboratively between the ARS unit in Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas. The research facility is a fixed poultry house with large grassy yards. The facility has the capacity for 20 floor pens--each 10 feet by 10 feet--and each pen has a 4-foot by 2-foot opening to an outdoor yard. Each enclosed outdoor yard is 1,000 square feet. The house is naturally ventilated with glass windows for natural light. The large yards will have vegetation year-round due to location in a warm climate and are designed for high-use.

The facility not only meets the livestock requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program, but also the animal welfare recommendations for poultry by the National Organic Standards Board and the Organic Poultry Guidance Document of the Accredited Certifiers Association. Both of these organizations encourage a high amount of outdoor access.

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the USDA. The research supports the USDA priority of ensuring food safety.