story submitted by the University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Center for Food Safety is participating in a grant project that will determine the food safety risk of small on-farm poultry processing systems – known as pasture poultry production – and evaluate other aspects of their operations.
Pasture poultry farms produce an average of 1,500 broiler birds a year and raise chickens in open-air moveable pens or in free-range environments. The birds are raised without growth promotion or therapeutic antimicrobials and are fed an organic diet certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The $272,684 project is funded by the federally-supported Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) agency. The University of Georgia is the lead institution for the two-year project. The UA System Division of Agriculture is serving as a cooperating institution and receiving $84,898 for its work from the overall project budget.
Arkansas personnel working on the project are principal investigators Steven Ricke, director of the Center for Food Safety; Phillip Crandall, professor of food science, and Kristen Gibson, postdoctoral associate in food science. Other project participants from the UA are Casey Owens, associate professor of poultry science; Ellen Van Loo, graduate student in food science; Andrew Sharpley, professor of soils and water quality, and Jessica Shabatura, an educational technology instructional design in agriculture specialist.
Producers use mobile processing units at small farms where birds are processed on site. Birds processed in this manner are exempt from USDA inspection requirements and do not receive USDA Inspected status. The lack of inspection status usually limits these farms’ poultry sales to household consumers and only a few food service market venues. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service makes available a compliance guidebook to small-farm processors who seek USDA inspection approval.
The SARE project seeks to determine the food safety risks associated with mobile processing units as compared to the risks at small USDA facilities. It also intends to assess the environmental impact of mobile processing units’ waste disposal compared to the impact from other types of processing.
The project will also assess the economic feasibility of pasture poultry production using the mobile processing units contrasted with other types of processing. Consumers’ willingness to pay for pasture poultry products will also be evaluated.
The project partly has its origins at a symposium for the 2008 Poultry Science Association annual meeting that was organized by Ricke and Frank Jones, who was then a poultry extension specialist in the UA System Division of Agriculture. The symposium, "Current and Future Prospects for Natural and Organic Poultry," led to a follow-up conference in Berryville, Ark., in 2010 where Ricke and Jones led a discussion among Northwest Arkansas pasture flock poultry farmers on issues such as the shortage of available local poultry processing facilities and the need for comprehensive outreach information.