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Changes sought in organic livestock standards

Comment period open until July 13, with those on both sides of debate requesting changes in proposed rule.

Interested parties have until July 13 to make comments on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed rule regarding revised organic livestock and poultry production standards. Mainstream livestock industry groups have had some significant concerns with the rule, while a coalition of animal and environmental protection groups have voiced their support for the changes.

The proposed rule features a number of substantial changes, including changes pertaining to space and property requirements for animals.

The United Egg Producers (UEP) has been actively engaged in reviewing the proposed rule. David Inall, UEP senior vice president, said the organization collaborated with other poultry sectors in a successful effort to extend the deadline for comments. They also requested that USDA undertake further economic analysis using the most up-to-date data available to assess the economic impact of the proposed rule.

“The proposed rule has attracted considerable interest from within the UEP membership. Many producers have expressed concern over certain elements of the rule, in particular those related to outdoor access. UEP will file detailed comments on the proposed rule; we anticipate many individual producers will do so as well,” Inall said.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said if the new animal welfare standards are enacted, it would be the first time such standards are codified in federal law and would present serious challenges to livestock producers.

NPPC, which opposes the new standards, explained that animal welfare is not germane to the concept of "organic," which previously has pertained to foods produced without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms or growth hormones. Some of the proposed standards, such as requiring outdoor access and, for pigs, allowing for rooting behavior, conflict with other tenets of organic production, such as environmental stewardship, NPPC noted.

Consumer confusion about the meaning of organic should not drive rule-making, NPPC noted; rather, consumer education campaigns should address any confusion.

A coalition of animal, environmental and consumer protection organizations submitted a joint comment to USDA and also gathered more than 120,000 comments from supporters who want to see a stronger organic program.

While the coalition urged USDA to finalize the proposed rule, it also identified key areas where USDA should improve its proposed standards. Specifically, the organizations are asking that USDA require:

  • Pain relief for certain physical alterations;
  • Minimum space requirements for pigs;
  • A prohibition on manual blunt force trauma as a form of euthanasia;
  • Access to vegetation and an increase in the minimum outdoor space requirements for birds, and
  • Use of perches and better lighting for birds.

In the coalition’s comment, it stated that these changes would “increase both animal welfare and uniformity and bring the standards more in line with consumer expectations.”

The coalition is comprised of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Compassion in World Farming, Compassion Over Killing, Farm Forward, Farm Sanctuary, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, Green America, The Humane Society of the United States, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Mercy For Animals and Organic Consumers Assn.

Comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov/document?D=AMS-NOP-15-0012-0001.

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