Proposed Rule for Organic Livestock and Poultry Production; Outdoor Access Requires More than a Screened Porch

August 17, 2022By Riëtte van Laack

On August 5, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced a proposal to amend the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for livestock handling, transport for slaughter, and avian growing/living conditions, as well as provisions to clarify existing requirements for livestock care and production practices. This proposed rule reverses the withdrawal by the Trump Administration in 2018 of the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry rule (the 2017 rule took ten years to develop).

As we previously reported, the Trump Administration justified the withdrawal of the rule by arguing that it was not AMS’s job to regulate humane treatment of animals. In addition, AMS had concluded that the Economic Analysis of the final rule was flawed.  The withdrawal of the rule resulted in four years of litigation.  See here for information about this litigation.  In the end, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California decided in favor of allowing the USDA to redo and update its rulemaking.

The proposed rule essentially reinstates the 2017 rule.   It addresses a range of topics related to the care of organic livestock.  Much of the proposed rule focuses on clarifying and codifying existing practices, but for poultry, additional indoor space and access to outdoors are added.

Livestock health care practices — Certain physical alteration procedures, such as debeaking and tail docking, will be prohibited or restricted for use on organic livestock. The proposal also includes requirements for euthanasia to reduce suffering of any sick or disabled livestock.

Living conditions —Requirements were a major issue of contention in the previous rulemaking.  The proposed rule sets separate standards for mammalian and avian livestock. The proposed avian livestock living standards set maximum indoor and outdoor stocking densities to ensure the birds have sufficient space to engage in natural behaviors, and essentially prohibit  what are often referred to as screened-in “porches.”. Generally, these porches consist of small enclosures placed just outside of the chicken houses.  Chickens can access these porches from inside the chicken house. However, according to opponents of the use of porches, these porches are not what consumers would consider access to the outdoors.  The proposed rule would make such porches an item of the past.  An outstanding item for which AMS requests feedback is the implementation of the outdoor access requirement (instead of porches).  In one of the three options, AMS would give existing facilities for layers 15(!)  years to come into compliance with the outdoor access requirements.

Transport of animals — The proposed rule adds new requirements on the transport of organic livestock to sale or slaughter.

Slaughter — The  proposed rule adds a section clarifying how organic slaughter facility practices and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service regulations work together to support animal welfare.

AMS will host a virtual listening session on Aug. 19 from noon to approximately 2 p.m. EDT.  The deadline to register for oral comment is 11:59 p.m. EDT, Aug. 15.

Comments to the proposed rule may be submitted until Oct. 11, 2022.

Categories: Foods