FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A grant project that will determine the food-safety risk of small on-farm poultry processing systems known as pasture poultry production is underway and the Univ. of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Center for Food Safety is a participant.

An average of 1,500 broiler birds annually are produced a year by pasture poultry farms, which raise chickens in open-air moveable pens or in free-range environments. These birds are raised without growth promotion or therapeutic antimicrobials and are fed an organic diet that is US Department of Agriculture-certified.

Costing $272,684, the project is being funded by the federally-supported Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) agency. The lead institution for the two-year project is the Univ. of Georgia. The UA System Division of Agriculture is serving as a cooperating institution and receiving $84,898 for its work from the project budget.

Under this system, producers utilize mobile processing units at small farms where birds are processed on-site. These birds are exempt from USDA inspection requirements and do not receive USDA Inspected status. The lack of inspection status, however usually limits these farms' poultry sales to household consumers and only a few foodservice market venues. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has a compliance guidebook available for small-farm processors who seek USDA inspection approval.

This SARE project hopes to determine any potential 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 other types of processing. The project will also assess the economic feasibility of pasture poultry production using the mobile processing units compared to other types of processing. Finally, the consumers' willingness to pay for pasture poultry products will also be evaluated.