USDA organic certification seal
The effective date has been delayed 60 days to give the new administration more time to assess the new rule.

WASHINGTON – One week after the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced it was postponing the effective date of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule by 60 days, the industry watchdog group, The Cornucopia Institute, issued a statement that was critical of the decision to delay the rule and its requirements. The group iterated that the rule implementing animal welfare standards in livestock and poultry in certified organic programs need to not only be upheld but enhanced even more, specifically for new proposed space requirements for chickens and providing outdoor access at egg-laying facilities.

According to the AMS announcement, “This rule, published in the Federal Register on January 19, 2017, amends the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions; and expands and clarifies existing requirements covering livestock care and production practices and mammalian living conditions.”

The final rule was slated to become effective March 20, but has been delayed until May 19, according to the USDA, “to ensure the new policy team has an opportunity to review the new rules,” in light of the appointment of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture this past month. The agency said in its announcement that delays such as this are common during the transition of a new administration and is a similar procedure utilized by previous administrations.

Critics of the move contend the delay is being reconsidered as a result of pressure from lobbyist groups representing the egg-production industry. According to officials with The Cornucopia Institute, the goal of the lobbyists’ constituents is to rescind the rule, which would require more space and outdoor access for animals.  

“The new rulemaking was in response to a more than decade-long controversy about concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, confining as many as two million laying hens on a single ‘farm’ without the legally mandated access to the outdoors,” said Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute.  “This rule neither solves the problem nor makes any faction in the industry happy.”  

In a previous assessment of the new rule, the institute said it did too little to distinguish between confinement requirements for organic vs. non-organic egg-laying operations.

“The new USDA standards, in terms of space requirements for organic laying hens, mandate only 1 to 2 sq. ft. indoors for each animal.  A 1 sq.-ft.-figure pertains to industrial-scale aviary structures with birds stacked floor-to-ceiling. This is the industry standard for conventional chickens — affording organic animals no higher level of welfare,” it stated.

The date for full implementation of the rule was to be one year from the effective date with the exceptions that establish different requirements for organic egg operations certified before March 20, 2020 vs. those certified after that date. Those egg operations certified after the date must comply with outdoor access requirements for chickens, while those certified before the date are granted a two-year period to comply with outdoor access requirements. Organic broiler operations, according to the rule, must implement the indoor space requirements by March 20, 2020.