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USDA proposes changes to organic livestock, poultry production requirements

USDA proposes changes to organic livestock, poultry production requirements
Congressional leaders ask for extension to June 13 deadline.

Updated: Congressional leaders ask for comment period extension

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has proposed amending the organic livestock and poultry production requirements in order to ensure consistent application of the USDA organic regulations for organic livestock and poultry operations and maintain confidence in organically labeled products.  The proposed changes are based on recommendations by the National Organic Standards Board and incorporate public comment and suggestions from stakeholders.

Related: Sen. Pat Roberts calls organic livestock standards 'ridiculous'

USDA issues proposed rule to amend organic livestock and poultry practices. (Photo: johan10/Thinkstock)

“The demand for organic agriculture continues to grow each year and these proposed changes will build on USDA’s efforts to support organic producers,” said AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer.  “By strengthening standards for organic livestock and poultry, we are ensuring that we meet consumer expectations and maintain the integrity of the organic seal to support the sector’s continued growth. This proposal sets clear standards for organic animals, providing clarity to organic operations and certifying agents, and establishing a level playing field for all producers.” 

The proposal is designed to provide clear guidance for organic producers and handlers to provide for their animal’s welfare. Major provisions include:

- Clarifying how producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and well-being throughout life, including transport and slaughter. 

-Specifying which physical alterations are allowed and prohibited in organic livestock and poultry production. 

-Establishing minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for poultry.  

These proposals would add specificity to the animal production and handling aspects of organic production, ensuring consistency and consumer transparency, bolstering consumer confidence and strengthening the integrity and marketing potential of the USDA organic seal. 

The total retail market for organic products is now valued at more than $39 billion in the United States.

Related: Number of organic operations grows by 12%

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register and is available to view at . The organic community, stakeholders and consumers may submit written comments on the proposed rule by visiting once the proposed rule has published. Comments are due June 13, 2016.

Comments can also be submitted by mail using the process outlined in the proposed rule, to Paul Lewis, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-NOP, Room 2646-So., Ag Stop 0268, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC  20250-0268.

Related: Cornucopia files suit against USDA over appointments to NOSB

Comment extension requested

On May 26, U.S. House and Senate agriculture committee leaders, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minnesota, called on USDA to grant a 90-day extension of the proposed rule due to its complex nature.

"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 food-borne illness, and significant barriers for current organic producers to maintain organic certification," the leaders wrote in a letter to USDA. "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."

On April 28, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture requested a 60-day comment period extension.

"We are requesting an extension of at least 60 days in order to provide the state departments of agriculture adequate time to review this important proposal, liaise with animal agriculture stakeholders, and formulate substantive and meaningful responses to the proposed organic standards changes," the NASDA wrote in a letter to Starner.

The National Organic Program, part of the Agricultural Marketing Service, is responsible for ensuring the integrity of organic agricultural products in the United States and throughout the world. More information is available at

Source: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

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