Care requirements may increase in organic production

Proposed rules apply to medical aid, surgical alteration, living conditions
Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

Organic livestock production rules proposed by the Department of Agriculture would increase care requirements, prohibit some amputative procedures, and define many living conditions.

The revised regulations would require that livestock producers administer medication to minimize pain and suffering among sick or injured animals even if the treated animal would lose its “organic” status, and they would allow drug administration to relieve pain and suffering from other sources, such as cattle dehorning. Current regulations prohibit administration of medications, other than vaccines, in the absence of illness.

The regulations also would establish that animals need to receive sufficient feed, demonstrated by acceptable body condition.

ChickensThey also would set minimum living space requirements under organic production and clarify that requirements for access to outdoor space can be met only by areas with soil and without roofs or walls, excluding “porches” that have proliferated in agriculture. Young cattle and most swine would need to live in group housing.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service published the proposals April 13 and is accepting comments through June 13 under Federal Register No. 2016-08023.

The proposals include clarification on which physical alterations can be performed on livestock in organic production as well as which alterations would be prohibited as routine procedures but allowed as needed.

The AMS regulations would state that routine use of tail docking and needle teeth trimming in pigs is prohibited except as a response to documented animal welfare problems for which other attempts at correction have failed.

“For example, an organic swine producer who clipped needle teeth or performed tail docking would need to document excessive needle teeth scarring on the underline of the sow or piglets or document tail biting on piglets in the litter,” the notice states.

In birds, the new rules would list as prohibited the removal of beak tips; the head protrusions known as snoods, combs, and wattles; and the nails and distal joints of males’ back toes, with the exception of infrared toe removal at turkey hatcheries. They also would prohibit castration of avian species and beak trimming of birds more than 10 days old.

And the rules also would list prohibitions against tail docking in cattle, surgical skin separation on cattle necks or shoulders for identification, cattle face branding, and mulesing of sheep, or removal of buttock skin to prevent fly infestation. The rules also describe minimum lengths for sheep tails after docking.

Sam Jones-Ellard, a spokesman for the AMS, said the rules on physical alterations are intended to remove uncertainty about which procedures are allowed and when in animals’ lives they need to be performed.

Along with the nutrition requirements, the rules also prohibit forced molting, or withdrawing feed from birds to induce molting, a method of rejuvenating egg production.

They also would more extensively govern avian living conditions, requiring that birds be allowed to move freely and engage in natural behaviors, limiting ammonia levels in their homes, and defining the maximum weights of birds allowed for every square foot of indoor and outdoor space, among other provisions.

Other provisions address requirements for cleanliness to prevent disease, lameness monitoring, practices and pharmaceutical administration that minimize pain and stress during surgeries, internal parasite minimization plans, and euthanasia plans involving approved methods. They also allow administration of certain synthetic drugs in response to illness.

The full text is available here.