USDA Issues Final Rule on Organic Including Animal Welfare
On January 18, 2016, the USDA issued a final rule on organic production including production of eggs that includes an animal welfare component. NAEF issued comments and USDA made revisions in the final rule to allow for restricting outdoor access of layers (see website below).
For example in the above-referenced 212-page response from USDA, NAEF noted the following:
Pages 47-48 -- Not prohibiting beak trimming and not mandating only using infra-red for the procedure.
Pages 80-83 -- provides indoor space for layers based on 2.25 pounds of bird per 1 square foot. In explaining the details, it notes that a 32 week old bird weighing 4.3 pounds must be given 1.43 sq. feet of space. At 80 weeks of age and weighing 4.5 lbs, the bird must be given 1.5 sq. feet.
Page 83-87 – outdoor access requirements are 1 sq. ft. for every 2.25 pounds of bird. A new section was added on page 85 to the proposed rule [205.241 (d)] noting restricting outdoor access in response in inclement weather. A new section was added on page 86 on temporarily restricting outdoor access in consideration of the health, safety or well-being of the bird may be jeopardized. And on page 87 is section 205.241(d)(5) restricting outdoor access for preventative health.
Organic Rule As Originally Proposed Needed Revisions
USDA proposed a new stricter federal rule (81 Fed Reg. 21955 et seq.) governing organic poultry on April 13, 2016 setting space requires at 2 square feet per bird both inside and outside stating the need for poultry to dust-bathe and peck or root in the soil. The rule will also eliminate beak trimming.
Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of USDA’s organic program was quoted in the April 8th Wall Street Journal saying that the new regulations “better align with consumer expectations.” NAEF noted the federal government needed revisions on the ramifications of outdoor access (potential for spreading avian influenza, more ectoparasites, an increase in e. coli in poultry, beak trimming reduces hen deaths, etc).
McEvoy went to say that Americans “expect organic livestock to spend a considerable amount of their life outside during appropriate weather conditions, so we proposed to codify that in a measurable way.”
Betsy Babcock, Handsome Brook Farm in New York is also quoted in the WSJ saying that only 2 square feet of outdoor space is not enough. On her pasture-raised poultry farm that allow 109 square feet of outdoor space as less space means more dirt rapidly happening from the roaming chickens.
NAEF Comments Opposing Organic Egg Production
The following are the comments filed by NAEF last April opposing the organic proposal that included an animal welfare component mandating outdoor access for egg laying chickens.
The National Association of Egg Farmers representing more than 200 egg farmers nationwide producing more than 10 billion eggs annually for human consumption appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to 7 CFR Part 205 National Organic Program; Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices. This is docket number AMS-NOP-15-0012; NOP-15-06PR (Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 0581-AD44 for this rulemaking.
The intent of this proposed rule is to create greater consistency in organic livestock practices through 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. We appreciate the purpose of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) (7 U.S.C. 6501-6522) is to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent and uniform standard (7 U.S.C. 6501), but we question the subjective nature of some of the proposed amendments pertaining to egg laying chickens without the benefit of practical science. Furthermore the amendments are expected to satisfy consumer expectations that organic livestock meet a uniform and verifiable animal welfare standard including exhibiting natural behaviors. In the case of poultry, those behaviors suggest the need for dust-bathing and perching. Poultry perform these “natural behaviors” for specific reasons, i.e. dust-bathing to rid themselves of ectoparasites that create discomfort for the poultry and perches for poultry to escape predators. Those two reasons are why modern egg farms more than 5 decades ago house poultry in cages to reduce the incidence of ectoparasites and to protect them from predation.
The proposed amendment suggest avian living standards would set maximum indoor and outdoor stocking densities. We question the subjective determination established in the proposed rule for allowable space for poultry. Specifically, § 205.241 (b) (7) specifies no more than 2.25 pounds of poultry per square foot of indoor space (or roughly 2 square feet per adult hen). § 205.241 (c) (3) specify no more than 2.25 pounds of poultry per square foot of outdoor space (2 square feet for an adult hen). There is no available science today that suggests this is an acceptable space allowance. Furthermore, outdoor access of poultry is recognized by the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service as potential concern in spreading poultry diseases. The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service acknowledges the potential for the spread of AI:
The other poultry viral disease recognized by the USDA Animal& Plant Health Inspection Service that can spread easily is Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) from outdoor poultry:
We therefore strongly object to § 205.241 (d) (3) which eliminates the concern of diseases as sufficient cause for confinement of poultry. This nation just endured in 2015 the most severe animal disease when nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys were destroyed to avian influenza (AI). Rigid biosecurity efforts have been incorporated into egg production practices, but the concern remains for the spread of poultry diseases such as Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease. Administratively dismissing the great concern for the spread of poultry diseases is irresponsible and should be eliminated from this proposed rule.
This proposed amendment § 205.241 (c) (3) specify no more than 2.25 pounds of poultry per square foot of outdoor space (2 square feet for an adult hen) should also be removed from the proposed rule. To allow outdoor access for organic poultry jeopardizes the existence of commercial poultry industries including the members of the National Association of Egg Farmers.