Celebrating the USDA’s move on August 5 to reinstate organic animal welfare standards, organic advocates are hailing this as a “resounding victory” for organic farmers, their livestock, and organic consumers.
As such, it reverses the withdrawal by the Trump Administration in 2018 of the Organic Livestock and Poultry rule of 2017.
The 2017 rule, which took 10 years to develop, regulated the living conditions, transport and slaughter of organic livestock.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) proposes to amend the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for the handling and transportation of livestock and poultry living conditions; and expanding and clarifying existing requirements covering animal care and production practices and the living conditions of mammals.
“The USDA has reaffirmed our position that ‘organic’ means consistently protecting animal welfare,” said Amy van Saun, senior counsel with the Center for Food Safety.
She also said the USDA’s proposed rule appears to fully reinstate the requirements recommended by the National Organic Standards Board and organic stakeholders. This would also include crucial updates requiring organic chickens to have adequate indoor space and access to the outdoors, eliminating “porches” that have allowed some factory farm chicken operations to market poultry and -their eggs as organic.
Screened “porches” are usually small enclosures placed just outside the chicken coops that the chickens can access from inside the coop. However, some say this is a loophole that large commercial chicken farms, where thousands of birds can be kept in a single unit, use to say that their chickens have access to the outdoors and that the eggs and Their chickens are therefore organic.
A 2002 decision to count screened-in porches as outdoor space caused a divide among large-scale and small-scale producers, with small-scale producers saying that porches don’t give chickens an equal opportunity to access the outdoors .
In June, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he wanted the rulemaking to include a proposal not to allow the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production.
Years of litigation After four years of litigation over the issue of the humane treatment of organic livestock, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of allowing the USDA to re and update its rulemaking. The Trump Administration had said that it was not the USDA’s job to regulate the humane treatment of animals.
But in 2018, the federal court rejected the arguments of the previous administration and ruled that the withdrawal of the rule that had established organic animal welfare standards would hurt the members of the organizations because it would weaken the organic label for consumers.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency looks forward to receiving public comments on this, and after reviewing the comments, USDA will publish a final rule.
“We are happy that the court has opened the way for the National Organic Program to finally align with consumer expectations,” said Cristina Stella, managing attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund (https://aldf. org), one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Consumer trust key to organic farming “The reintroduction of the organic animal welfare rule is a major victory in securing the trust of consumers and farmers alike, which they expect meaningful and consistent animal welfare standards under the organic label,” said Abby Youngblood, executive director of the National Organic Coalition and a plaintiff in the case.
Rick Salazar of Earp, CA, is organic all the way. As far as he is concerned, organic food is healthier for him and his wife.
Like many other organic advocates, he assumes that the meat and poultry that carry the organic label were raised in a humane manner, that includes access to the outdoors and that they are not confined to homes that may be unhealthy.
When asked if humane treatment is important to him, his answer comes quickly. “Sure,” he says. “It makes a big difference for us.”
Beef breeder Virginia Good Vlahovich’s email address is “Happy Cows Forever” — a clear message that she and her husband Tom treat their cows humanely. They have their cows outside on the pasture and they haven’t bred them for four or five years. And although their farm is not certified organic – which is true for many small-scale farms that follow organic practices, such as not using synthetic fertilizers or harmful pesticides – they know that their customers trust them to treat their animals with a human way. It is an important part of being good farmers and attracting and retaining customers.
“I would say it’s true,” Vlahovich said.
As a Sedro-Woolley Washington Farmers Market board member, she said she can see that more and more people are choosing organic. And you can also see the trust they have in organic farmers to treat their animals and poultry humanely.
“I welcome this news,” said Eiko Vojkovich, co-owner of the Skagit River Ranch in Western Washington. “Our job as farmers is to allow our animals to thrive in their own environment. Treating them humanely is important to us. Consumers trust that we are doing that.”
Eiko, her husband George and their daughter Nicole raise organic cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys. According to their website, their broiler chickens are raised outdoors in mobile pens where they can roam on green pastures in the fresh air. They eat organic vegetables and grains supplemented with flaxseed and kelp to help ensure they have plenty of vitamins and trace minerals.
As for the farm’s eggs, the farm’s website states that “Unlike so-called ‘free-range’ chickens that are raised in captivity, our laying hens truly live on pasture. and eat grass, insects and organic grains as they roam all over the green fields. a long day. Our eggs sell so fast at farmers markets that our customers stand in line for 15 minutes before the opening bell rings. They are so good!”
On the bottom line of consumer confidence, Vilsack said earlier this year: “I understand we have some work to do to rebuild trust between the department and the organic industry, and I’m committed for that. And those who work at the USDA are committed to that.”
On food safety According to a paper published in PubMed.gov by A M de Passillé and J Rushen: “A greater appreciation of the link between animal welfare and animal health makes the link to the safety of -clearer food. Improvements in animal welfare have the potential to reduce on-farm risks to food safety, mainly through a reduction in stress-induced immunosuppression, a reduction in the incidence of infectious diseases in -farms and reducing the spread of human pathogens from farm animals, and through reducing antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. .
“Farm animal health problems continue to be serious threats to animal welfare, and measures of disease incidence can serve as animal-based measures of animal welfare. The continued development of hazard analysis and animal welfare critical control point-based approaches allows for a smoother integration of animal welfare and food safety standards.”
Proposed rule The proposed rule updates USDA’s organic regulations for livestock production. The proposed changes address a range of topics related to organic livestock care, including:
Livestock health care practices — The proposed rule would specify which physical alteration procedures, such as docking and tail docking, are prohibited or restricted for use on organic livestock. The proposed animal health care practice standards include requirements for euthanasia to reduce the suffering of any sick or disabled animals;
Living conditions — The proposed rule establishes separate standards for the living conditions of mammalian and avian livestock to better reflect the needs and behavior of different species, as well as the related expectations of -consumer. The proposed mammalian livestock standards cover both ruminants and pigs. The proposed poultry housing standards set maximum indoor and outdoor stocking densities to ensure birds have sufficient space to engage in natural behaviors;
Transportation of animals — The proposed rule adds new requirements regarding the transportation of organic livestock for sale or slaughter;
Slaughter — The proposed rule adds a new section to clarify how organic slaughter facility practices and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations work together to support welfare of animals.
Go here (https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2022-16980.pdf) to learn more about the rule.
Hearing session USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will host a virtual hearing session on August 19 from noon to approximately 2 p.m. EDT to hear comments on this proposed rule. The deadline to register for oral comment is 11:59 p.m. EDT, August 15. Access information will be posted on the AMS website prior to the listening session at https://www.ams.usda.gov/event/listening-session-organic-livestock- and-poultry-standards.
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