Proposed Rule for Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

Kelsey Gee reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The government Thursday unveiled stricter federal rules governing organic livestock and poultry farmers, capping years of industry fighting about the proper ways to raise chickens, pigs and other animals.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed regulations set requirements for animals’ space and ban certain rearing practices.”

Ms. Gee explained that, “The proposed rules lay out for the first time minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for organic chickens, with many egg-laying hens needing the equivalent of 2 square feet per bird both inside and outside.

“The plan also defines outdoor access, in an attempt to ensure that animals are able to dust-bathe, peck or root in soil, with turkeys, broilers and other meat birds allotted a square foot of space for every 5 pounds. Some organic producers and consumer groups complain of farmers that provide only covered porches, attached to large, enclosed sheds, for outdoor access.

“The new requirements also bar practices such as debeaking poultry and docking cattle and hog tails, both used in conventional agriculture.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “In addition to clean water and direct access to sun and shade, the rules would require producers to design facilities to encourage all birds to go outside on a daily basis. The outdoor areas would have to have ‘suitable enrichment’ to entice birds to go outside, [Miles McEvoy, the head of USDA’s organic program] said.”

And Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported yesterday that, “The new rules would increase the cost of producing one dozen organic eggs by 3.6 percent, the USDA said. The nation produced about 166 million dozen organic eggs in 2014, according to the agency.

“Only about 36 percent of organic egg operations provide at least 2 square feet per bird of outdoor space, according to a survey cited by the USDA.

“And at least 50 percent of organic egg production comes from operations that exclusively use roofed enclosures, known as porches, to provide outdoor access to hens, according to the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The porches have solid floors and no access to soil. Fresh air enters the porches through screens or netting.”

Mr. Polansek added that, “The egg industry has undergone a major shift toward cage-free production.”

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