USDA National Organic Program rules are often poo-pooed by sustainable-farming advocates as being too lax, particularly regarding livestock and poultry keeping. The USDA and National Organic Standards Board are looking at changing the organic regulations to better fit the consumer perception of the animal-welfare standards that should be upheld in an organic system.
The proposed rules go beyond what’s already in place to further outline livestock healthcare practices, including restricting certain physical-alteration procedures, outlining requirements for euthanasia, setting standards for livestock and poultry living conditions so animals have the space to engage in natural behaviors, and clarifying organic slaughter-facility practices. In short, the proposed changes will shift industrial organic farming to look more like what many people imagine when they think of sustainable farming.
Many of these proposed changes make me happy. Among them:
- Debeaking and caponization will be prohibited.
- Animal-lameness monitoring—including for broilers—and the creation of a plan for monitoring and recording instances of lameness in the Organic System Plan will be required.
- Continuous, total confinement of any animal indoors and of ruminants in yards, feeding pads and feedlots will be prohibited. (Finally!)
- Dairy calves will be group-housed after weaning, and after 6 months of age, they will have access to the outdoors, including to pasture during grazing season.
- Indoor and outdoor exercise areas for pigs must permit rooting.
- Exit areas for birds to get outside must be designed so that more than one bird at a time can get through the opening and that all birds within the house can go through the exit areas within one hour. (This one might be my favorite.)
There is so much more good stuff here, and I encourage you to give the whole thing a read—it will take you a bit of time! With these positive changes for animal welfare also come expenses for organic livestock producers who have to modify their facilities and management routines, so certainly there is give and take for organic farmers of all scopes.
Submit your comments about these proposed rule changes to the USDA by June 13, 2016. It’s actually pretty simple to do it online, or send your thoughts by mail to Paul Lewis, Ph.D., Director Standards Division, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-NOP, Room 2646-So., Ag Stop 0268, 1400 Independence Ave. SW., Washington, DC 20250-0268. If commenting by mail, be sure to include the docket number AMS-NOP-15-0012; NOP-15-06PR.
You can also read comments that have been submitted so far.