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Proposed Organic Animal Welfare Standards

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On April 7, 2016, USDA posted a proposed rule to clarify existing federal organic regulations related to animal welfare standards. The rule published to the federal register on April 13 and the comment deadline is July 13, 2016. This rulemaking is based on the 2011 NOSB Recommendation which sets standards for indoor and outdoor space requirements for organic poultry and livestock, and adds definitions to which practices are allowed and prohibited under organic regulations.

OTA Statement on Proposed Organic Animal Welfare Standards

76% of organic farmers already allow their flocks to have real outdoor access. Claims that outdoor access requirements for organic birds raise disease concerns simply don’t pass scrutiny. All USDA and FDA health and safety rules remain in place. A less-stressed flock is a healthier flock – that’s organic. Learn more from USDA about biosecurity protections in organic poultry operations.

Producing food that meets the USDA Organic label is a choice for farmers and consumers. An ongoing review process by the National Organic Standard Board and USDA keeps that standard strong. Animal welfare, which includes healthy living conditions and the best animal husbandry practices, has always been a high priority of organic producers. In fact, USDA’s National Organic Program’s final rule was the first USDA regulation to mention animal welfare, requiring outdoor access for all organic poultry and livestock and living conditions that accommodate for the health and natural behaviors of animals.

The Organic Trade Association supports the process to strengthen and improve organic animal welfare standards and supported The National Organic Standard Board’s 2011 recommendation to USDA on proposed rules, which included standards for indoor and outdoor space requirements for organic poultry and livestock, and added definitions to which practices are allowed and prohibited under organic regulations.

We are pleased to see that USDA has moved forward with rulemaking based on this recommendation, and OTA welcomes this opportunity to engage the organic community in establishing comprehensive animal welfare standards for organic.  Ensuring that the high expectations consumers have for organic foods are met will help to preserve the organic seal’s reputation as the gold standard for agricultural production practices. OTA looks forward to reviewing the proposed rule and providing comments to USDA.


The Organic Trade Association opposes any amendment that might be considered during the floor debate on the Agriculture Appropriations bill that would impede the National Organic Program in finalizing and implementing its proposed rule on organic poultry and livestock practices. We also urge you to oppose any such amendment. 

Keep organic strong

Producing USDA Organic food is a choice for farmers, but consumers want that label to mean something. That’s why Congress set up the National Organics Standard Board — to advise USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture on organic production. They’ve spent over a decade listening to all views before recommending new organic animal welfare standards. Now, this potential amendment could hamstring the USDA National Organic Program from doing its job – writing, implementing, and enforcing organic rules.

Passing such an amendment would set a very dangerous precedent for organic. Please vote no on any amendment that would prohibit the use of funds in the Appropriations Bill to implement the proposed rule on animal welfare for organic operations.

USDA Proposed Rule to Amend Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices 

In an April 2016 press release USDA explained that the proposed rule will ensure consistency among organic producers and protect the integrity of the USDA organic seal.

Key Changes to Current Regulations in Proposed Rule:

  • Distinct welfare provisions are provided for mammalian and avian livestock
  • Outdoor access for poultry cannot have a solid roof overhead
  • Outdoor space requirements for poultry must be less than 2.25 pounds of hen per square foot of outdoor space
  • Outdoor space must have 50% soil cover
  • Indoor space requirements for poultry must be less than 2.25 pounds of hen per square foot of indoor space (allowances up to 4.5 pounds per square foot are made for pasture based and aviary style production systems)
  • Further clarity on justifications for confinement indoors for livestock and poultry
  • Further clarity on physical alterations that are allowed and prohibited
  • Proposed implementation timeline following the issuance of a final rule: 1 year for all new organic operations; 3 years for new livestock housing construction; 5 years for all certified operations to be in full compliance

OTA has formed a task force to develop comments back to USDA. If you would like to participate in the task force or have questions or concerns, contact OTA’s Senior Crops and Livestock Specialist Nate Lewis.


Senior Crops & Livestock Specialist

(360) 388-6422

Vice President of Government Affairs

(202) 403-8511

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