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Keeping Organic Strong: Changes in organic regulations and farming practices
National Organic Standards Board

Fall 2011 NOSB Livestock Recommendations

Over the past several years, the Livestock Committee has engaged in an extensive dialogue with organic community stakeholders to develop clearer and more enforceable poultry production standards. A very wide variety of poultry production operations are certified under the current standards which many organic advocates maintain are too vague to meaningfully differentiate between organic and industrial systems. The key issues within the animal welfare considerations include how much space to require per bird both within the poultry house and outdoors, when and how to provide birds access to the outdoors and what environmental conditions must be maintained when birds are outdoors. Currently certified operations range between near continuous confinement systems housing upwards of 100,000 hens to houses with 10,000 – 15,000 birds and seasonal access to adjacent fields to chicken tractors that move 100 birds to new grass every day.
The Livestock Committee brought a detailed recommendation to the full NOSB that contained quantitative as well as qualitative standards to provide poultry with indoor and outdoor environments that protect the birds’ welfare and allow them to consistently and meaningfully express their natural behavior. The recommendation requires that laying hens (birds raised for eggs) receive a minimum of 2 sq. ft. per bird indoors and between 2 and 5 sq. ft. outdoors. The recommendation also requires that chicks raised as laying hens begin to receive access to the outdoors no later than 16 weeks of age. Broilers, which are raised for meat and have a very different life cycle than layers, must receive a minimum of 1 sq. ft. for up to 5 pounds of birds indoors and outdoors. The layer and broiler space requirements, as well as the qualitative conditions in the recommendation for ensuring that birds do in fact go outdoors, represent significant upgrades to the conditions maintained by the majority of currently certified poultry operations.

The Livestock Committee also included in its animal welfare recommendation detailed standards for organic pork production. As with the poultry recommendations, these standards strengthen the connection between raising pork and providing meaningful access to an outdoor environment suitable to the animals’ welfare and natural behavior. The recommendation requires that pork receive access to pasture with a minimum of 25% vegetative cover during the grazing season while acknowledging that swine need to root as well. The Livestock Committee brought a second recommendation to the NOSB entitled Animal Handling and Transport to Slaughter.  This recommendation contains detailed, species-specific requirements addressing when and how livestock may be transported (for example, sick animals must not be moved) to safeguard animal welfare and how to protect organic integrity during such processes.

The NOSB unanimously adopted the both the Animal Welfare and Stocking Rates and animal Handling and Transport to Slaughter recommendations. While the Livestock Committee will continue to work on guidance documents related to these recommendations, the focus for upgrading organic livestock production standards now shifts to the NOP which must draw upon the NOSB’s work in implementing new rulemaking procedures.

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