USDA proposes new standards for Certified Organic label

by Erica Shaffer
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Organic livestock and poultry production practices are coming from the USDA.

WASHINGTON – The US Dept. of Agriculture said the agency will soon publish proposed new standards for organic livestock and poultry production practices.

The agency’s proposal aims to clarify the meaning of organic while adding new requirements for organic livestock and poultry transport, slaughter practices and living conditions. For example, the proposed rule establishes minimum requirements for indoor and outdoor space for organic poultry and specifies that outdoor space must be soil-based.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) applauded the proposed regulations.

“The proposed regulations are desperately needed, given that no substantive standards for the raising of animals have existed since the national organic regulations went into effect in February 2001,” Dena Jones, farm animal policy director for AWI, said in a statement. “The lack of specific requirements for animal welfare has resulted in great variability in the level of animal care provided by organic producers. Some producers raise animals on pasture with high welfare, while others raise animals in a manner similar to conventional, intensive agriculture. In some instances organically raised animals are never even given the opportunity to go outdoors, for example.”

The proposed regulations were developed with input from the stakeholders in the organic foods industry, including organic livestock and poultry producers and handlers. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member advisory committee that represents all sectors of the organic community, also made recommendations.

USDA said the mission of the National Organic Program is to maintain the integrity of organic products domestically and globally. “This means clearly defining what it means to be organic and enforcing those rules,” the agency said in a news release. “Consumers look for and trust the organic seal because they know that USDA stands behind the standards that it represents.”

Jones added that consumer perception that animals receive better treatment when raised under a system of organic production remains a key reason consumers are willing to pay higher prices for organic meats and poultry. “However, because this is not always the case, animal welfare organizations in the United States typically do not recommend the Certified Organic label to consumers,” Jones said.

USDA noted that the total US retail market for organic products is now valued at more than $39 billion, and the segment grew 12 percent from 2014 to 2015.

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