USDA releases final organic livestock, poultry rule | TSLN.com

USDA releases final organic livestock, poultry rule

The Agriculture Department's Agricultural Marketing Service today released the final

Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, but AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer said the organic aquaculture rule is still at the Office of Management and Budget and will not be issued before the Obama administration leaves office on Friday.

The new rule requires that organic poultry producers provide their birds with access to pasture and vegetation for the products to carry the USDA organic seal, and also establishes broader humane slaughter standards.

In a news briefing, Starmer noted that the agency is releasing the rule because the previous rule issued in 2010 had "lacked clarity" and allowed producers who only provided outdoor space, sometime with a floor, to use the seal on their products.

“This rule has serious potential to force organic farmers and ranchers out of business and is widely opposed by those very folks who are affected the most by this rule.” Sen. Pat Roberts, R,Kan., Senate Agriculture Committee chairman

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Although some producers have said the rule will force them to expose their birds to disease including avian flu, Starmer said AMS had taken biosecurity into consideration and allows producers to decide to confine birds to prevent illness.

The rule was needed to assure consumers that organic products come from animals that have lived under the standards they expect, and that includes access to the outdoors and the ability to act naturally, a USDA official said.

"If consumers doubt the integrity it could erode confidence in the $43 billion organic market," the official said.

Laura Batcha, the CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, praised the release of the rule and said that "the vast majority organic egg producers both large and small, and most major organic brands support finalizing these regulations as not only welcome but essential."

"While the vast majority of organic egg producers (95 percent of producers who raise 76 percent of the organic hens, according to a 2014 survey by the Organic Egg Farmers of America) are already following the proposed rules, and these producers are eager to expand their operations, there will likely be some necessary adjustments," OTA said.

"The implementation timelines reflect USDA's understanding of the adjustments some producers may need to make to comply with the provisions and respects the investments producers have made into their production systems."

The National Organic Coalition, an alliance of environmental, consumer, farmer and co-op grocery store, groups also endorsed the rule, saying "Consumers who choose to buy organic eggs, poultry, and meat expect organic farmers to raise their animals in the healthiest conditions possible — to provide access to the outdoors, space to move around, and freedom to exhibit their natural behaviors."

But Michigan Agri-Business Association President Jim Byrum, who had earlier said USDA should not complete the rule due to concerns about requiring birds to be outside when avian flu is problem, said, "This last-minute rule was written for political activists, not for farm families or rural businesses, and it should be reviewed and rejected by Congress or the next administration without delay. We sincerely hope the next administration will closely scrutinize this damaging, misguided rule and make every effort to prevent the rule from taking effect."

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., appeared to echo the Michigan viewpoint.

"I am disappointed that USDA's rule on organic livestock practices did not address many of my concerns about animal health, consumer organic prices and access, or the impact on organic producers," Stabenow said.

"While I support high standards for animal welfare in the organic industry, I believe USDA missed an opportunity to do this in a way that did not risk unintended consequences. I will continue to work with USDA and my constituents to address their concerns."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., also spoke out against the rule.

"With less than 48 hours left in power, this administration has overstepped its bounds with this damaging rule," Roberts said.

"This rule has serious potential to force organic farmers and ranchers out of business and is widely opposed by those very folks who are affected the most by this rule. Prices for consumers could rise, and animal health could be put at risk, which may decrease food safety. I will work with USDA under the new administration to see what can be done to ease this overregulation on our hard-working farmers and ranchers."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, also said he is not happy with the rule.

"I am disappointed to see yet another controversial rule pushed through during the final hours of the Obama administration," Conway said.

"Not only do animal welfare standards go beyond the scope of the National Organic Program, the requirements regarding expanded outdoor access for poultry fly in the face of lessons learned from the recent and devastating outbreak of HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza], and are particularly concerning given the detection of the virus in a wild duck in Montana earlier this month. I hope that the incoming administration will immediately withdraw this rule, but stand ready with my colleagues on the Hill to roll back the regulation if necessary."

–The Hagstrom Report