Proposed changes to the National Organic Program Livestock and Poultry Practices are open for a recently extended comment period, which now closes on July 13, 2016. There are new revisions covering animal welfare and health practices, requirements for outdoor access and living standards for mammals as well as poultry, and new regulations for transport and slaughter. Anyone involved in organic production is encouraged to understand the new proposals, and to provide comments for consideration.
According to the official summary from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS): “AMS has determined that the current USDA organic regulations (7 CFR part 205) covering livestock health care practices and living conditions need additional specificity and clarity to better ensure consistent compliance by certified organic operations and to provide for more effective administration of the National Organic Program (NOP) by AMS.”
Many farmers who spoke up regarding the current livestock regulations, last revised in December 2011, felt that NOP standards allow practices—confinement, animal welfare practices such as tail docking or beak trimming, medical treatment practices, and feeding methods—that needed to be redefined, clarified or altered in order to protect the standards of organic certification. These proposed modifications are a result of that input.
Avian regulation changes include: clarification to the year-round outdoor access regulations; new requirements for space per bird; new parameters for the use of artificial lighting, flooring and litter; and ventilation requirements.
The original draft guidance on outdoor poultry access, published on Oct. 13, 2010, for public comment raised many concerns, and was not finalized. Small family farmers have been opposed to the outdoor access rules, which allow larger poultry producers to effectively keep poultry confined in crowded conditions indoors or use “porches.”
Proposed outdoor access changes focus on design which will “promote and encourage” access to the outdoors. Doors sized to allow all birds to get outside within a one-hour timespan would be required. Areas with roofs attached to indoor shelters (chicken porches) would no longer qualify as “outdoors”; and a minimum of 50 percent of the outdoor area would need to be soil.
The new proposed regulations aren’t all about poultry. Those raising swine, goats, sheep, cows or any other certified organic livestock are also going to have to meet new regulations, if the proposed changes are adapted. Regulations on inclement weather, health care and management of manure and protection of natural resources have been added. Natural animal behaviors are emphasized, and the ability to express those behaviors is defined and required.
Requirements would state that “animals must be kept clean during all stages of life with the use of appropriate, clean, dry bedding, as appropriate for the species,” building on the current standards of providing clean, dry bedding. Space requirements have been made more specific, and “sufficient space and freedom to lie down in full lateral recumbence, turn around, stand up, fully stretch their limbs without touching other animals or the sides of the enclosure, and express normal patterns of behavior” is required in the proposed revisions.
For those raising ruminants, there are changes to the use of feedlot, feeding pads and feed yard areas. The changes would allow creep feeding and self-feeding, eliminating the requirement that all animals be fed simultaneously, as long as all animals are fed enough to maintain appropriate body condition.
As per the AMS: “With creep-feeding and self-feeding, feed is accessible to all animals at all times though they may not feed at the exact same time. Self-feeding and creep-feeding provides organic ruminant producers with more flexibility and options to manage their farm and livestock in farm-specific methods.”
Dairy cows in particular are now mentioned in regulations pertaining to calf housing. Proposed regulations state that young stock can be housed individually, under certain conditions, until weaning. Calves must be able to see, smell and hear other calves, and must have room to stretch, turn around, lie down and groom without coming into contact with their pens. Group housing is required after weaning, and outdoor access and pasture regulations apply after six months of age. Confinement periods during breeding have also been clarified, and a requirement that all areas and equipment be maintained in clean condition, adequate to prevent disease concerns, has been added.
Swine housing has also been addressed, with requirements that rooting behaviors are accommodated in all exercise areas, indoors or outdoors. With several exceptions for farrowing, boars or aggressive animals, swine must be group housed. Fifty percent or more of the outdoor access must be soil, unless temporary conditions make this environmentally irresponsible, in which case outdoor access that protects the soil must be utilized.
Livestock Health Care Practice Standard
New regulations specify what alterations can be performed on an animal, under what conditions, and noted exceptions. The proposed regulations state that, “physical alterations may be performed for only certain reasons, including an animal’s welfare, hygiene, identification, or safety. Alterations must be done at a reasonably young age with minimal pain or stress to the animal, and only by a person who is competent to perform the procedure.”
Procedures such as tail docking and teeth clipping in swine would only be permitted when all other methods of control, which must be documented, have failed. Other procedures, whether for poultry, swine, or ruminants, would be banned.
“De-beaking, de-snooding, caponization, dubbing, toe trimming of chickens, toe trimming of turkeys unless with infra-red at hatchery, beak trimming after 10 days of age, tail docking of cattle, wattling of cattle, face branding of cattle, tail docking of sheep shorter than the distal end of the caudal fold, and mulesing of sheep,” are proposed prohibited actions.
In addition, the allowance of pain relievers is broadened, so that “by providing pain relief prior to performing a physical alteration, animal welfare is improved.”
Clarification on the use of veterinary biologics, which are allowed, is proposed. Clarification emphasizes that hormones are not permitted, unless used to treat an illness.
Euthanasia is newly addressed, with provisions added for euthanization of sick or injured animals. Producers must have written plans in place for management of euthanasia. Prohibited methods of euthanasia include those, which use “suffocation, blow(s) to the head by blunt instrument, and use of equipment that crushes the neck.”
Transport and Slaughter
Regulations would prohibit the transport of “sick, injured, weak, disabled, blind and lame animals to auction or slaughter facilities.” Young calves going to slaughter or auction would need to be able to stand and walk independently, and have a dry navel cord.
Transportation must meet minimal ventilation requirements, and utilize organic bedding. The regulations require that all organic livestock be transported in a trailer/truck or in pens within the trailer/truck designated for organic use, and remain there at all time. Organic feed and water must be made available if transport time exceeds a 12-hour duration.
Specific rules for humane handling of livestock of all types, including exotic species and poultry, during slaughter are proposed. Compliance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), Poultry Products Inspection Act requirements concerning slaughter, and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulatory would apply. However, slaughter facilities are not all regulated by the Federal government, and AMS is seeking comments on how to insure that state licensed or otherwise not covered under USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations.
For further information, and to comment visit https://www.federalregister.gov and search ‘Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Proposed Rule’.