An interesting study about ordinances governing backyard poultry ownership in Colorado was recently published, titled “A Method for Guarding Animal Welfare and Public Health: Tracking the Rise of Backyard Poultry Ordinances” (the “Report”).
The Report “tracks the development of municipal ordinances, with attention to provisions for animal health and welfare and significant concerns for public health.”
Public and animal health officials, as well as large commercial poultry operations, have been concerned about the spread of infectious, contagious diseases, such as avian influenza virus from small backyard flocks where owners are unaware of and not familiar with the typical biosecurity measures that are generally recommended in animal agriculture.
USDA has published a number of guidance documents for people interested in raising poultry for their personal consumption of eggs.
In “Biosecurity for Birds,” USDA explains:
Raising backyard poultry is a growing trend across the United States. It is very important for all backyard poultry owners to know the signs of two deadly poultry diseases, as well as the basic ‘biosecurity’ steps you can take to protect your birds. APHIS runs the Biosecurity for Birds campaign to help raise awareness among backyard, hobby and pet bird owners.
On the other hand, animal rights activists often blame commercial agriculture for the spread of avian influenza. See, e.g., An HSUS Report: Human Health Implications of Intensive Poultry Production and Avian Influenza, and Avian Influenza Just One Marker of Sickness in Industrial Agriculture .
The fact is that avian influenza is most often spread from wildlife to privately owned domestic flocks, regardless of the size of the flock. Therefore, for animal and public health concerns, statutes and regulations̶̶-federal, state, or local-should provide for the health and welfare of laying hens as well as ensuring quality standards for eggs.
Federal and state laws govern standards of egg quality relating to the prevention of contamination with Salmonella. As the Report discusses:
The federal regulations include requirements related to egg handling and storage prior to point of purchase by consumers, as well as testing for Salmonella on farms that have more than 3000 hens and implementation of biosecurity programs on those farms to control egg safety risks. For poultry meat safety, USDA inspects live birds and carcasses at federally inspected slaughter plants (i.e., plants that process meat for export or interstate commerce) to ensure that they are free of disease, and also evaluates conditions at those plants to ensure that they are sanitary and following ‘good commercial practices.’
However, as the Report states, local ordinances that permit ownership of backyard poultry usually do not include provisions related to either the health or safety of the hens.
[B]ackyard birds may pose significant risks to the general public. The outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI, H5N1) in Egypt offers a shocking example. The majority (107/112) of Egypt’s clinically confirmed HPAI cases of human infection from 2006 to 2009 are linked to close contact with diseased backyard birds resulting in 36 deaths and human-to-human spread. In addition, the 2002 California outbreak of Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) originated in backyard flocks. The outbreak spread into commercial operations and resulted in depopulation of over 3 million birds, costing taxpayers $161 million. (citations omitted).
The Report, analyzing backyard poultry ordinances in Colorado, found, in part:
- The most common guidelines for poultry ordinances pertain to housing design and placement, the sex of birds, and total number of birds allowed, including specific space requirements for birds, in come cases.
- Ordinances commonly required housing to be predator resistant, easily cleaned, and maintained regularly to prevent the development of pests, rodents, or odors that would cause nuisances.
- In urban locations, the number of birds permitted was often limited to between 4 and 6 birds per lot.
- Ventilation requirements were often not included in ordinances.
- Roosters were commonly prohibited.
Notably, the Report stated that “[r]egulations pertaining directly to animal health and welfare were rare.”
The Report concluded that ordinances should include these provisions.
[O]ur study indicates that there are fewer guidelines for the health and welfare of backyard poultry than their commercial counterparts. Regulation is important in disease prevention. Fragmented oversight of animal welfare and health creates policy blind spots critical to shared human and animal health.