Meat & Livestock News

New Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Introduced by USDA

Modern chicken farm and farmer checking production and automated feeding system.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has unveiled the final rule for the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) as announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. This rule aims to set robust, clear, and consistent standards for organic livestock and poultry production. 

The objective is to create a level playing field for organic livestock farmers, ranchers, and businesses, ensuring fairer and more competitive product markets. Additionally, consumers will benefit from increased transparency regarding their purchases.

Secretary Vilsack emphasised the USDA’s commitment to fostering a transparent, competitive, and fair food system. 

He stated that these standards would enhance the uniformity of animal welfare practices in organic production and its enforcement. Such competitive markets, he noted, would benefit all producers, irrespective of their scale.

The introduction of this rule has been influenced by significant interest from consumers and the organic sector. The USDA has made the rule available for public preview and has actively sought feedback. 

Over 40,000 written comments were submitted and reviewed to shape the final rule. Furthermore, a listening session was conducted in August 2022 to gather public opinions on the proposed rule.

The OLPS focuses on enhancing uniformity in animal welfare practices for organic livestock and poultry, ensuring their well-being and promoting natural behaviours. The rule provides detailed standards in six primary areas:

Outdoor Space: The OLPS mandates minimum outdoor space criteria for organic poultry, ensuring they have easy outdoor access. At least 75% of these outdoor areas should be soil-based, with as much vegetation as feasible.

Living Conditions: Livestock shelters should offer ample space for animals to move freely, express natural behaviours, and remain hygienic.

Poultry Stocking Densities: Specific requirements have been set for indoor and outdoor stocking densities, aligning with recommendations from advisory boards, third-party animal welfare standards, and feedback from organic stakeholders.

Preventative Health Care: Producers must uphold preventative health care practices, including adequate nutrition and comprehensive parasite prevention strategies. Any necessary treatments must be administered, even if the animal loses its organic status.

Physical Alterations and Euthanasia: Only essential physical alterations are allowed, and these must be done humanely. Euthanasia can only be considered if no other treatment options are viable.

Transport, Handling, and Slaughter: Standards have been set for the transportation of animals, especially for journeys exceeding eight hours. The transportation mode must suit the season, and USDA humane slaughter standards must be followed.

The USDA’s National Organic Program, in collaboration with USDA-accredited certifiers, will supervise the implementation of these standards, ensuring compliance and supporting the organic market’s growth.

The USDA believes implementing the OLPS will provide organic livestock and poultry stakeholders, including those considering transitioning to organic, with more equitable market competition opportunities. 

The rule aims to bolster consumer trust in the USDA organic seal, aligning organic standards with consumer expectations regarding animal welfare. This alignment is expected to enhance the value delivered to producers and foster a more transparent and competitive food system.

It’s worth noting that the OLPS has not yet been officially published in the Federal Register.