City Bar Issues Report in Response to USDA’s Proposed Amendment to Organic Livestock and Poultry Production Regulations

The City Bar has issued a comment letter supporting a proposed amendment to the organic livestock and poultry production regulations of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service. The amendment, which covers organic livestock and poultry producers, would add new provisions for livestock handling, transport for slaughter, and avian living conditions, and expand and clarify existing requirements covering livestock health care practices and mammalian living conditions. Additionally, the Proposed Rule seeks to promote more consistent practices among organic producers and “better satisfy consumer expectations that organic livestock meet a uniform and verifiable welfare standard.”

The letter, submitted by the City Bar’s Animal Law Committee, supports the USDA’s Proposed Rule, which would provide heightened standards for the living conditions, physical alteration, medical care, handling, transport and slaughter of organically raised farm animals. The letter further recommends stronger regulations for both organic producers and organic slaughter facilities to address humane treatment of animals during transportation to sale or slaughter, noting, “Under current law, animals may be denied food, water, bedding, or space to lie down for 28 hours of consecutive transport and may endure weather conditions that range from extreme heat to extreme cold.”

The Proposed Rule would also prohibit or limit certain painful physical alterations to animals that are allowed under the existing rule, for example “de-beaking” of poultry, face-branding of cattle, tail-docking of cattle, and mulesing of sheep. However, the letter notes that this does not altogether prohibit all physical alterations, such as castration of non-avian species, branding, and ear-notching. The letter suggests that if these procedures are to be allowed, the regulations should require that they be performed by a licensed veterinarian and that the animals be provided with appropriate pain medications. It further recommends that painful physical alterations, such as hot iron branding, be eliminated or restricted. Notably, the Proposed Rule provides the first meaningful provisions covering avian living conditions and has specific space requirements for birds. These new provisions are significant because current USDA organic regulations do not require a numerically expressed minimum amount of space per animal and so “producers have broad discretion in interpreting these general standards such that many organic producers are raising animals in a manner that is nearly indistinguishable from the scant to non-existent animal welfare standards in the average factory farm.”

The letter further states, “Consumers expect that organically farmed animals benefit from heightened welfare standards, which should include the transport and handling of animals up to and including the time of slaughter. To ensure compliance with such higher standards through the time of slaughter […] we recommend that staff at organic slaughter facilities be specially trained, and that inspectors be present on site at organic slaughter facilities to ensure compliance.”

The letter can be read here: