In May 2016, a congressman from Michigan wrote a stinging letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Twenty four Republican members of Congress complained about a new proposed rule regarding practices for organic poultry and livestock. The proposed rule for poultry and livestock practices can be found in the Federal Register April 13, 2016. The comment period for this rule closed July 13.
The congressmen claim that USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) are "...advocating a [proposed] rule that many of these businesses [can] not comply with. AMS even acknowledges this in the summary of the proposed rule wherein the agency reports that outdoor access measures would lead to a reduction of 43% of current organic layers - and says that up to 90% of organic aviaries would exit to the cage free market."
The Congressional letter raises numerous questions regarding what AMS is thinking. An examination of the proposed rule for an organic poultry operation is a masterpiece in terms of government requirements for production agriculture.
In a section entitled "Avian Living Conditions" AMS tells the producer of organic poultry that the operation "...must establish and maintain year-round poultry living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of poultry, including: year-round access to outdoors; shade; shelter; exercise areas; fresh air; direct sunlight; clean water for drinking; materials for dust bathing; and adequate outdoor space to escape from predators and aggressive behaviors suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate and the environment." (I suspect foxes and coyotes will love the additional outdoor space.)
Requirements for organic poultry operations are even more amusing when applied to indoor space requirements for poultry. Indoor housing "...must have 30% minimum of solid floor area available with sufficient litter available for dust baths so that birds may freely dust bathe without crowding."
At least there is no requirement for curtains for privacy!
The new outdoor space requirements are enlightening as well. "Producers must provide access to the outdoors at an early age to encourage (train) birds to go outdoors. Outdoor areas must have suitable enrichment to entice birds to go outside." In going outside, the AMS regulators have determined that "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."
The AMS bureaucrats also declare space that has a solid roof overhead and allows poultry to remain under it without hindrance does not meet the definition of outdoor access. The only shade allowable for the precious organic creatures must "...be provided by structures, trees or other objects in the environment."
Finally, the producer of an organic poultry operation is also directed and mandated how to manage manure. Organic poultry manure must be managed "...in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, heavy metals, or pathogenic organisms and optimizes recycling of nutrients and must manage outdoor access in a manner that does not put soil or water quality at risk."
These are but just a few new proposed requirements that AMS would require for organic poultry production, which includes chickens, turkeys, geese, quail, pheasant, and any other specie which will be raised for organic eggs, meat, or other organic agricultural product.
USDA and AMS are certainly expanding their power.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.