AMS announces final rule on organic livestock handling
February 2, 2017
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service has announced a final rule to strengthen production requirements for organic livestock and poultry and improve consumer confidence in the organic seal.
"During this administration, USDA's support for the organic sector has grown along with the demand for organically produced products. To build on this support, it has been a top priority to strengthen standards for organic livestock and poultry, ensuring that we meet consumer expectations and maintain the integrity of the USDA organic seal. This rule is also about fairness for organic producers — it ensures that everyone competes on a level field and plays by the same rules," Elanor Starmer, AMS administrator, said in aJan. 18 press release.
The rule was proposed April 13, 2016, on the heels of several recommendations to the USDA from the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member federal advisory committee, and an Office of Inspector General audit asking for more consistency in organic livestock and poultry production standards. They cited that consistency on standards across the board is key in fostering consumer confidence in the organic brand
After an extended comment period, followed by consideration of the USDA, the final rule was released in full on Jan. 19, 2017. The rule builds upon existing requirements, and introduces new standards. According to the USDA's AMS website, the rule clears up the vague standard surrounding outdoor access for poultry, it also sets clear standards for raising, transporting and slaughtering organic poultry and livestock.
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Requiring that producers provide animals with daily access to outdoor areas that include soil and/or vegetation.
Specifying the amount of space required indoors for broilers and layers.
Describing when producers can temporarily confine animals indoors and codifies flexibility for producers to confine animals when their health, safety or well-being could be jeopardized.
Adding human handling requirements for transporting livestock and poultry to sale or slaughter, and clarifies humane slaughter requirements.
Prohibiting several kinds of physical alterations.
During the 90-day comment period, AMS fielded nearly 6,700 comments in response to the proposed rule. Comments came in from various industry, animal welfare, and trade organizations, state and foreign governments, veterinarians, consumers and consumer groups, and producers, including southeast Nebraska producer, Ben Gotschall.
"The National Organic Program standards are a living document, meant to be continually reassessed and updated. I believe the standards included in the new rule are a good thing because increasingly, organic certification has come under scrutiny from consumers. Consumers are holding organic to a higher standard. They want justification for the higher prices they pay for organic products. And at the end of the day, consumer choice, competition, and transparency are always good things," said Gotschall of Davey Road Ranch.
With the exception of the outdoor access requirements for layers and indoor space requirements for broilers, all other requirements must be applied by March 20, 2018. The implementation of the requirements for layers and broilers will be phased in. All requirements must be implemented within five years of the final rule.
"The rule does not directly affect my day-to-day operation. Our current practices are already in line with highest animal welfare standards. However, it could possibly affect the amount of paperwork we do for certification," Gotschall said.
While many animal welfare groups and organic producers have shown their support for the updated standards and new requirements, others have expressed concern.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association President, Tracy Brunner, released the following statement in response to the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service's Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule:
"NOP is a marketing program, not an animal health, welfare, or safety program and certainly not a place to set animal welfare requirements. Cattlemen and women have worked diligently over the past 30 years to develop and improve animal care and handling standards through the Beef Quality Assurance Program, which is continuously reviewed and updated as new science becomes available."