Hens in livestock cages
(Photo: Bell Ka Pang / Shutterstock.com)

Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

On Oct. 25, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reached a final ruling on the organic labeling of livestock and poultry, establishing stricter standards for space requirements, conditions, and density regulations.

The ruling finalized organic regulations after amendments were first proposed on Aug. 9, 2022. The Agricultural Marketing Services extended the public comment period and involved various discussions with organics groups, farming organizations, and other industry professionals — the USDA received 40,000 written comments before the final ruling.

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards establish regulations for organic livestock and poultry production to promote a more competitive market, according to a USDA press release. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack previewed the rule, but it has not been officially published.

“This organic poultry and livestock standard establishes clear and strong standards that will increase the consistency of animal welfare practices in organic production and in how these practices are enforced,” Vilsack said in the release. “Competitive markets help deliver greater value to all producers, regardless of size.”

The rule establishes six key areas for organic livestock and poultry farmers, including a minimum outdoor space requirement where areas must be at least 75% soil and include vegetation to the degree possible.

Indoor facilities also have reestablished space requirements where livestock can lie down, stand up, turn around, fully stretch, and express natural behaviors. This national regulation follows the implementation of California’s Proposition 12, which set new confinement regulations for pig farmers in the state regardless of organic labeling.

Under Prop 12, it is a criminal offense to sell whole pork meat in California unless the sow that bore the pig was housed within 24 square feet of space. All breeding swine farms will need Prop 12 certification for buyers and pork distributors to sell pork to the California market.

At the time of Proposition 12’s favorable ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, pork industry leaders across the nation were concerned that the regulations would extend to other commodities and other states, Farm Week Now reported.

“Farmers in other states’ ag industries have to match California’s regulations, then they have to go try to match what another state does — that creates a lot of issues and too much instability for the market,” Christina Weller, agribusiness attorney in Illinois said at a Capitol Hill meeting.

Along with spacing requirements, the USDA’s new regulations extend to preventative healthcare practices and seasonally appropriate transportation to protect livestock from cold or heat.

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