Proposed Rule for Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

Proposed Rule for Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has announced that the agency will propose amending the organic livestock and poultry production requirement, based on recommendations by the National Organic Standards Board that incorporate years of public comment and suggestions by stakeholders. The proposal is designed to provide clear guidance for organic producers and handlers to provide for animal welfare.

"This will support the continued growth in the organic livestock and poultry sectors, and ensure consumer confidence in the organic label," said Miles McEvoy, the head of USDA's organic program.

The broadest changes proposed by USDA would cover outdoor access for poultry, suggesting standards for how densely poultry can be stocked as well as minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements. The rules would require poultry have access to areas that are at least 50 percent covered in soil. Hen houses would not be allowed to only have a porch; producers would have to provide additional outdoor space.

In addition to clean water and direct access to sun and shade, the rules would require producers to design facilities to encourage all birds to go outside on a daily basis. The outdoor areas would have to have "suitable enrichment" to entice birds to go outside.

The amount of outside access for poultry has been a subject of debate, as some food safety advocates have expressed concerns that more outdoor access may increase the chances of salmonella contamination. The Food and Drug Administration issued guidance in 2013 to try to help organic egg producers better prevent salmonella.

The Organic Trade Association's president, Laura Batcha, said she was pleased USDA is moving forward with the rule. "Ensuring that the high expectations consumers have for organic foods are met preserves the organic seal's reputation as the gold standard for agricultural production practices," Batcha said.

The major provisions of this proposed ruling:

  1. Clarify how producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and well-being.
  2. Clarify when and how certain physical alterations may be performed on organic livestock and poultry in order to minimize stress. Additionally, some forms of physical alterations would be prohibited.
  3. Set maximum indoor and outdoor stocking density for avian species, which would vary depending on the type of production and stage of life.
  4. Define outdoor access to exclude the use of structures with solid roofing for outdoor access and require livestock and poultry to have contact with soil.
  5. Add new requirements for transporting livestock and poultry to sale or slaughter.
  6. Clarify the application of USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requirements regarding the handling of livestock and poultry in connection with slaughter to certified organic livestock and poultry establishments and provide for the enforcement of USDA organic regulations based on FSIS inspection findings.

Does this Action affect me?

You may be potentially affected by this action if you are engaged in the meat, egg, poultry, dairy, or animal fiber industries. Potentially affected entities may include, but are not limited to:

  • Individuals or business entities that are considering organic certification for a new or existing livestock farm or slaughter facility.
  • Existing livestock farms and slaughter facilities that are currently certified organic under the USDA organic regulations.
  • Certifying agents accredited by USDA to certify organic livestock operations and organic livestock handling operations.

Other types of entities could also be affected. To determine whether you or your business may be affected by this action, you should carefully examine the proposed regulatory text.

The implementation approach and time-frame.

AMS is proposing that all provisions of this rule must be implemented within one year of the publication date of the final rule except for the outdoor space requirements for avian species. Outdoor access practices, particularly for organic layers, vary; some operations provide large, open-air outdoor areas, while others provide minimal outdoor space or use screened, covered enclosures commonly called “porches” to provide outdoor space.

AMS is proposing two distinct implementation time-frames for the outdoor space requirements for poultry:

(1) 3 years after the publication of the final rule any non-certified facility would need to comply in order to obtain certification;

(2) all facilities certified prior to that 3-year mark would need to comply within 5 years of the publication of the final rule.

For further information on the proposal, click here for the Federal Register:

The organic community, stakeholders, and consumers are invited to submit written comments on the proposed rule online or by mail.

Comment period ends June 13, 2016.