USDA Releases Proposed Updated Organic Breeding Rule

The USDA has released a proposal to update its standards for organic livestock and poultry, an action that represents ongoing changes to several organic animal welfare provisions that have been in the works for 20 years. With scheduled publication in the Federal Register on August 9, the USDA is proposing requirements for the living conditions, care, transport and slaughter of organic poultry and livestock.

“This proposed organic livestock and poultry standards rule demonstrates the USDA’s strong commitment to American organic producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We encourage producers, processors and consumers to submit written comments on the rule so that we can work together to create a fairer, more competitive and transparent food system.”

The content of the rule bears many similarities to the rule proposed in January 2017 by President Obama’s outgoing USDA officials. This rule, however, was suspended a few months later by President Trump’s USDA.

The outdoor access provisions for poultry have a long history of agency and National Organic Standard Board actions and are a central issue in this proposed rule. Outdoor access practices, particularly for organic laying hens, vary among certified farms: some farms offer large open-air outdoor spaces, while others offer minimal outdoor space or use screened enclosures and covered areas commonly referred to as “porches” to provide outdoor space.

An audit conducted by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General identified inconsistencies in certification practices regarding the use of porches as outdoor space. To respond to this finding, the AMS issued draft guidelines, but determined that it was best to establish rules to resolve the differing out-door access practices for organic poultry.

The proposed rule would require living conditions for birds to include: year-round access to the outdoors, ground, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, direct sunlight, clean water for drinking, materials for dust bathing, and adequate space to escape aggressive attacks. behaviours. The rule sets minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for laying hens and requires producers to provide a sufficient number of outings and outdoor enrichment to entice birds out daily. It also clarifies that covered porches and similar structures are not considered outdoor spaces.

The interior space should be large enough to allow all birds to move freely, spread their wings, stand normally and perform natural behaviours. Cages or environments that restrict free movement within the interior space would be prohibited. Additionally, the interior space should allow the birds to engage in natural behaviors such as dust bathing, scratching and perching.

To help mitigate biosecurity and predation risks, fencing, netting or other materials would be permitted on all or part of the outer areas to prevent predators and other wild birds from entering the outer area.

Under the proposed rule, the following physical alterations of avian species would be prohibited: beak trimming, disgorging, caponizing, doubling, toe clipping of chickens, toe clipping of turkeys, except with infrared at the hatchery, and beak trimming after 10 o’clock. days of age. In addition, the following physical alterations of mammalian species would be prohibited: tail docking of cattle, wattle of cattle, face branding of cattle, tail docking of sheep shorter than the distal end of the fold caudal and mulesing of sheep.

Another provision of the proposed rule would require organic producers to actively monitor and document lameness within the herd. Lameness can be a problem in various species of livestock, including broilers, sheep and dairy cattle. “This proposed requirement for producers to create a plan to monitor and record cases of lameness in the organic system plan would allow organic farmers to identify and address potential problems in animals before they become widespread. “, explains the rule.

AMS proposes to add three new provisions to require collective housing of pigs, with three exceptions listed:

  • allow sows to be individually housed at farrowing and during the lactation period;
  • allow boars to be individually housed to reduce the likelihood of fights and injury;
  • would allow pigs to be individually housed after multiple documented cases of aggression or allow an individual pig to recover from documented illness.

Action to come

AMS provides a 60-day comment period. To access the record, including the reference documents and comments received, go to (search for the record “AMS-NOP-21-0073”).

“These regulations are an opportunity to ensure that consumer expectations align with current organic standards, build trust throughout the supply chain and level the playing field for producers. notes Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. “With this proposed rule, the USDA seeks to establish and clarify clear standards for organic livestock and poultry production.”

Once finalized, the USDA’s National Organic Program will oversee the rule’s implementation. The NOP will also host an online public listening session on August 19, 2022 to hear oral comments on the proposed rule.

“The Organic Trade Association has always fought for the highest standards of animal welfare in organic agriculture,” says Tom Chapman, Executive Director and CEO of the OTA. “We even sued the USDA in 2017 for overturning the original version of this rule (Bio Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices), despite widespread industry support. Today marks the first significant movement on organic animal welfare in years; we hope it also signals a willingness on the part of the USDA to listen to the organic industry and act quickly to implement these common-sense reforms. Organic producers and their animals have waited long enough, it’s time for the USDA to act.

“If this rule is put into practice in a timely manner, this new standard will finally provide meaningful humane standards of treatment for animals raised under the ‘organic’ label and it will give consumers more confidence and peace of mind than the label is not a hollow promise or a marketing gimmick,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy. “This rule will also be a boon to farmers, giving them the opportunity to produce a value-added product for farmers. consumers and earn a living through the responsible care and raising of animals on the land.”

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