Ag lawmakers call for organic livestock rule comment extension

House and Senate ag committee leaders ask for 90-day extension to allow more time to understand potential consequences.

Senate and House agriculture committee leadership called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant a 90-day extension of the public comment period for the agency’s proposed rule regarding revised organic livestock and poultry production standards.

Senate Agriculture Committee chair Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) and ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), along with House Agriculture Committee chair Michael Conaway (R., Texas) and ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), expressed multiple concerns with the proposed rule, urging USDA to address those concerns prior to publishing a final or interim final rule.

“Additional time is necessary for stakeholders to evaluate the changes made in the proposed rule and provide comprehensive feedback on the potential impacts if the rule is implemented,” the letter said, asking for an extension from 60 days to 150 days.  

“Our constituents have expressed significant concern regarding possible unintended consequences, including reduced access to organic products, substantially increased organic food costs for consumers, significant disruption to the organic feed and processed organic products industries, increased exposure to disease and mortality for organic poultry, increased risk of contamination or foodborne illness and significant barriers for current organic producers to maintain organic certification,” the letter added. “We respectfully request additional time to ensure more thorough public comment on these key areas to inform your decisions prior to this rule moving forward.”

Both the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House agriculture subcommittee on livestock and foreign agriculture held hearings this week on the U.S. livestock and poultry sectors, which included testimony from a variety of producers. 

Ron Truex, president and general manager of Creighton Brothers LLC in Warsaw, Ind., and chairman of the United Egg Producers (UEP), testified that egg operations comprising nearly 70-80% of the organic eggs currently marketed would be required to make significant changes in order to meet the standards USDA has proposed.

UEP estimates that the economic impact of the proposed organic welfare standards rule would be “well in excess of $100 million, if not more,” Truex said. It will be impossible to meet the requirement for more outdoor space while banning porches unless producers make new land purchases. He said producers have made significant investments in recent years to help meet increased demand for organic eggs. Truex said the rule could result in reduced supplies and higher prices for consumers.

The porch systems also help the commercial poultry avoid contact with wild birds that carry disease. John Zimmerman, a turkey farmer from Northfield, Minn., who testified on behalf of the National Turkey Federation, said coming off the massive avian influenza outbreak last year, the organic standards rule proposed by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service “flies in the face of everything we’re doing" with the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service to keep birds inside to protect them from avian influenza.

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