November 2022 Policy Update

November 2022

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Today is Election Day

With many tight midterm races around the country, we are expecting changes in the committees working on annual spending bills and the 2023 Farm Bill.  Once the votes have been counted and election results determined, each party will convene conferences in both the Senate and the House to determine their nominees. Whichever party comes away with the majority will appoint the committee chairs, and the percentage of a party’s representation in each chamber will determine how many seats they get on each committee. Then in January when the newly elected Senators and Representatives take office, they will vote to confirm the nominees. OFA will provide analysis of what those new assignments mean for organic policy in DC. 

Expanded List of Import Codes Available for Organic Oversight

Identification and oversight of organic imports is key to ensuring organic integrity. USDA is working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to provide new electronic import oversight tools to monitor imports at US ports and borders.

Products with at least 3 importers and $1 million in annual imports can be assigned a unique Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code that the tool U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses to track goods. Until recently there were only a few dozen of these HTS codes available for organic products, but the number has expanded over the last few years, and is now up to 84 organic, with 12 added this year.

HTS codes specific to organic will be especially important as electronic NOP Import Certificates are phased in. Some importers are already using the electronic system, as part of a voluntary pilot phase. USDA says they are working with stakeholders to build the case for more organic HTS codes to protect the organic seal and support supply chain traceability. 

Ask the USDA for rapid implementation on Organic Animal Welfare Standards

This August, the USDA released a proposed rule to update the Organic Poultry and Livestock Standards. The public comment was originally set to close on October 11th, but has been extended through November 10th. 

These updated standards have been awaited for years, with many delays including lawsuits triggered by the USDA’s decision not to finish an earlier proposal. OFA supports the proposed rule, which would not allow porches in chicken houses to qualify as outdoor access. 

However, the USDA has proposed possible 5 year or 15 year timelines for certified egg-producing operations to come into compliance with the rule once it’s been finalized. OFA is urging USDA to set a faster 3 year timeline, to rapidly finalize the rule and level the playing field for farmers as soon as possible.

Click here to send a comment telling USDA you support the proposed rule, and that they need to set a more aggressive 3 year implementation timeline

Join the USDA Listening Session on Organic Pinpointed Market Development Support

On November 15th USDA will host a listening session to “invite input from stakeholders about innovative ways in which organic infrastructure investments could support increased access to processing, storage, distribution, and consumer markets.” The listening session will take place on Zoom from 3-4pm EST, and written questions and comments can be submitted in advance. This is an opportunity for organic farmers to let the USDA know how Organic Transition Initiative funding can be most helpful. For more details and the RSVP link click here.

Coming Up: OFA’s Annual Policy Platform Process

Over the winter, OFA will begin its annual policy platform and priority setting process. This begins with a survey of all U.S. certified organic farmers and OFA organizational members asking them to submit policy position proposals and prioritize policy issues. Once the results are in, OFA’s Policy Committee will review the results, and draft policy statements for review and comment by membership. The final proposals will be voted on by OFA farmer members, and those that get 60% of the popular vote and 60% popular support in at least two-thirds of the regions will become part of the OFA policy platform.


Fall 2022 OFA Oral Comments to NOSB

October 18, 2022
Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director

RE: General Comments to the NOSB via Webinar Testimony

Thank you, NOSB members, for the opportunity to speak before you today.  My name is Kate Mendenhall, I am the Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association.  OFA represents a strong national voice for domestic certified organic farmers.

Today I will be addressing Compliance, Accreditation, & Certification topics.

Proposal: NOSB Technical Support:  We have spoken to this point before and support research assistants for NOSB members.  We have concerns about these assistants being USDA employees for both the potential conflict of interest and the pervasive lack of organic knowledge within the USDA.  The board functions well currently, and research assistants should not interfere but support individual members’ research needs as directed by the board member.  We also urge the NOP to consider expanding the approved reimbursable expenses to help farmers on the board cover costs they incur to participate in the meetings, such as the cost of hired help for their farm while performing board duties.

Fraud Prevention:  OFA appreciates the Board’s work on deterring fraud, it continually ranks as a high priority for farmers.  We support the subcommittee’s proposal requiring acreage reporting and their recommendations to the NOP regarding small-diversified growers. The reporting should account for succession planting where total acres/crop may exceed total farm acres.  Organic paperwork is already burdensome for farmers, so streamlining this requirement and making sure it aligns with farms using paper records is important.

Traceability requirements must consider the different marketing structures of various commodities; tracing sales data for commodity corn is very different from tracing sales data for highly perishable wholesale market vegetables with many buyers.

In addition to oversight of certifiers, NOP must provide clear guidance when there is a discrepancy or questions on how organic standards should be interpreted.  Any guidance should be transparent and distributed to all accredited certifiers. Regarding standardized forms, we encourage a pilot project focusing on areas of high fraud risk like grains to identify how it affects certifiers, inspectors, and farmers.  We support exploring common forms for consistency and encourage collaboration with certifiers to identify the best existing models for replication and trial as well as assess what forms farmers currently use.  Common forms do have a positive ability to create more consistency among certifiers and expand the opportunity for translation.

Finally, I’d like to support more board and NOP attention to racial equity within the organic community and efforts to actively address barriers to organic certification and success.  While organic certification is understandably rigid as a regulatory system and at times that is incredibly important, at times prioritizing our humanity and our commitment to the principles of care and fairness is equally if not more important.  Understanding our cultural differences, barriers to entering agriculture, and additional societal weight that people of color unfairly carry is important to expand who gets and stays certified organic.  As forms are created and systems refined, ensuring a racial equity lens is applied must be a top priority.

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October 20, 2022
Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

RE: General Comments to the NOSB via Webinar Testimony

Thank you, NOSB members, for the opportunity to speak before you today.  My name is Lily Hawkins, I am the Policy Director of the Organic Farmers Association.  OFA was created to be a strong national voice and advocate for domestic certified organic farmers.  

Today I will be addressing the issues of climate-smart agriculture and contamination.

OFA members agree with the NOSB that certified organic production should be automatically considered “climate-smart” and therefore eligible for any and all funding opportunities and support through relevant USDA programs. 

Organic agriculture has tremendous potential to address climate change while making sure that family farms flourish. But to meet its full potential, we need the USDA to take several steps to protect the integrity of the USDA-certified organic label. This is needed to maintain the standing of the organic label with consumers, ensure a level playing field for organic farmers, and make sure that organic methods provide the maximum benefit in addressing the climate crisis. 

There are several critical areas of NOP rulemaking and enforcement necessary to ensure that organic agriculture is truly climate-smart: 

First, the NOP must finalize the long-overdue Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Rule as quickly as possible to strengthen standards that ensure outdoor access and prioritize pasture-based systems. 

The NOP must also prioritize enforcement of the existing pasture standard to guarantee that organic animals are raised in climate-friendly pasture-based systems.

Second, the NOP must ensure that Organic Farming is Soil-Based. The NOP’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic, as well as inconsistent interpretation of the NOP’s guidance for how container operations transition to organic, could undermine consumer confidence in the organic label overall and reduce the potential for organic agriculture to sequester carbon. For organic agriculture to maximize its potential as climate-friendly agriculture, soil must be recognized as the cornerstone of organic production. 

Contamination:

Another area where NOP can support farmers in their efforts to ensure organic integrity is in providing support and guidance to farmers dealing with contamination from outside sources. 

This comes in the form of genetic contamination from GMOs, and pesticide drift like what’s being caused by Dicamba, which can travel great distances. And more recently - legacy contamination from per-and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) or “forever” chemicals is coming to light. This PFAS contamination comes from municipal and industrial sludge applications that took place decades ago, but is only recently being tested for. The problem isn’t limited to organic producers, but organic farmers have bravely led the way in pulling products once contamination has been discovered.

Farmers need help from state and federal agencies to cope with contamination, including assistance with soil and water testing, technical assistance for determining whether farm operations can safely continue, and compensation for lost production and lost farm value due to contamination. 

NOP can help by advocating on this issue at higher levels of the USDA, APHIS, RMA, and the EPA. and by providing certifiers with specific guidance on what to do when organic operations experience drift/contamination.  We encourage this guidance to be developed with farmer input.

Farmers’ investment in organic needs to be protected from these sources of contamination. 

 


Organic Grain Growers: Iowa Suspends Global Processing Inc.'s Grain Dealer Licenses

On October 7, 2022, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) suspended the warehouse and grain dealer licenses for Global Processing Inc. of Kanawha, Iowa. As a result of this action, Global Processing Inc. shall not operate as a warehouse operator or grain dealer within Iowa until further order of the Department and must surrender any warehouse and grain dealer certificates to the Department.   The company also has grain facilities in Minnesota and Nebraska.

Global Processing Inc.’s licenses were suspended in Iowa in accordance with Iowa Code Chapters 203 and 203C. The suspension is based upon the company’s failure to have sufficient funds to cover producer grain checks and failure to file monthly financial statements in accordance with Iowa Codes 203 and 203C. The Department has requested that a hearing on the Department’s action be held in the immediate future, that date will be set on Wednesday, October 12.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Grain Warehouse Bureau regulates and examines the financial solvency of grain dealers and grain warehouse operators. The functions of the Bureau include warehouse licensing, warehouse examination, grain dealer licensing, and grain dealer examinations.  If you sell to an Iowa-licensed grain dealer the elevator is required to pay the farmer within 30 days of grain delivery.  If the farmer request immediate or earlier payment, the buyer is REQUIRED to pay the farmer within 24-48 hours of that request.  If a grain farmer selling in Iowa finds that the buyer has not met these regulatory protections for farmers, farmers should call the IDALS Grain Warehouse Bureau to report a claim:  515-281-5324.  While the bureau monitors annual, and sometimes quarterly, and monthly financial statements for grain dealers, hearing from farmers that a buyer is having trouble paying producers is helpful for IDALS to conduct an investigation in a timely manner.

IF YOU SOLD GRAIN TO GLOBAL PROCESSING BUT HAVEN'T BEEN PAID

Unfortunately, you will need to wait until Global Processing's hearing date to determine whether their license will be revoked.  If it is revoked, then you should call your state Department of Agriculture's Grain Division.    In the event their license is revoked, click here for our state directory and instructions we created for the Pipeline Foods' bankruptcy case in 2021.

IF YOU ARE UNDER CONTRACT WITH GLOBAL PROCESSING TO DELIVER FUTURE GRAIN

The IDALS staff are recommending farmers contact their attorneys to evaluate where grain needs to be delivered and whether they can get out of those obligations.

 

 

 


October 2022 Policy Update

October 2022

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Comments on Proposed Animal Welfare Standards Due November 10th

This summer, the USDA released a proposed rule to update the organic standards for how livestock are raised. This comes after years of delay, including lawsuits triggered by the USDA’s decision not to finish an earlier proposal. The proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule would not allow porches in chicken houses to qualify as outdoor access, but does request input from the public on how long it should give current operations to come into compliance with tighter standards. The deadline for public comments was originally set for October 11th, but last week it was pushed back to November 10th. 

These stronger standards are long overdue, and we are asking USDA to set a faster 3 year timeline than the 5 year or 15 years they have proposed for certified egg-producing operations to meet the outdoor space requirements for laying hens.. 

To weigh in, visit our action page and tell USDA you support the proposed rule, and that they need to set a more aggressive 3 year implementation timeline

Deadline for Annual Spending Bills Extended

October 1 marked the beginning of the federal government’s new fiscal year. Congress was supposed to have passed annual appropriations bills to set spending for federal agencies such as the USDA by September 30th.  However, they were unable to reach an agreement on the final package of bills and instead passed a resolution to allow the government to continue operating under the 2022 budget until December 16th - narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. 

In the appropriations bills that have been drafted for the USDA for Fiscal Year 2023, organic programs are faring well. The House has already passed a bill that would increase funding for the National Organic Program and includes language to direct the NOP to strengthen their enforcement of organic soil health requirements. The Senate has a draft bill, which also included an increase in funding for the NOP and good report language on enforcement. The senate bill still needs to be passed, and any differences between the two bills must now be reconciled and passed by the extended December deadline.

Watch the National Organic Standards Board’s Fall Meeting

The NOSB meets twice a year to work on recommendations to the USDA about organic standards and the National List of materials that are allowed or prohibited in organic production. After several years of virtual meetings, the NOSB is planning for an in-person meeting in October in Sacramento, California, but will continue to only take public testimony virtually.  Watch OFA’s tweets @OrganicFarmersA to follow organic farmer testimony. 

  • Public Comment Webinar Day 1: Tuesday, October 18 from Noon - 5:00 pm Eastern
  • Public Comment Webinar Day 2: Thursday, October 20 from Noon - 5:00 pm Eastern
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 1: Tuesday, October 25 from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Pacific
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 2: Wednesday, October 26 from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Pacific
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 3: Thursday, October 27 from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Pacific

The deadline to register for comments has closed, but you can still watch the meeting online. Click here for more information and the link to watch! You can also read OFA’s written comments.

Congress Members Campaigning in Home Districts

With the midterm elections just one month away you may see your member of Congress campaigning at events in your area. This is a great opportunity to ask them to support our priority issues.

Here are some ideas of what to say if you get the chance:

  • “Will you support Farm Bill funding to support independent organic farmers and help move more U.S. farms to organic methods?”
  • “Will you encourage the USDA to swiftly implement updates to animal welfare provisions in the organic standards?”
  • You can even invite your member of Congress to visit your farm for a more in depth conversation. 

Grants Awarded Through Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities

In September, the USDA announced 70 projects that were selected to receive up to a total of $2.8 billion as part of a funding opportunity called Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. This was the first of two planned funding pools that the USDA is distributing with the goal of expanding markets for climate-smart commodities to benefit producers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There was enormous interest in the program with over $18 billion worth of proposals submitted. Several organizations with an organic focus received awards, the full list of awards given in this first round can be found here

Project proposals for the second pool were due in June, and are currently being evaluated by the USDA, and the selections should be announced later this year. They say the focus of the second round will be on projects involving small and/or underserved producers and minority-serving institutions.


OLPS Comment Deadline Extended: Nov. 10, 2022

The USDA extended the comment deadline for the organic animal welfare standards to NOVEMBER 10, 2022.  Please sign our petition and submit an individual comment to the USDA in favor of fast finalization, implementation, and enforcement of the OLPS rule.   Farmers have been waiting far too long for the organic standards to clarify animal welfare standards the great majority of organic livestock farmers already implement on their farms.


Organic Farmers Association Hires New Policy Director 

Former Food and Water Watch Maryland Senior Organizer will lead organic policy advocacy efforts. 

September 12, 2022: Organic Farmers Association, the nation’s unified voice for certified organic farmers, has named Lillian Hawkins to replace outgoing Patty Lovera as its new Policy Director who is moving to a fulltime role with Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment.

Hawkins brings an impressive background in grassroots organizing on farm and environmental issues and lobbying in Maryland with Food & Water Watch (FWW). Previously, she founded a local advocacy organization, SOMA Action, where she honed her activism and lobbying skills to enact change for her community. 

“I am looking forward to working closely with organic farmers from across the country to make sure their policy priorities are strongly represented in Washington, D.C.,” said Hawkins. “Working directly with community stakeholders to make their lives better has been a passion of mine, and I am excited to bring my skills to helping organic farmers build a stronger farmer movement with Organic Farmers Association.”

“Hawkin’s background in effective grassroots mobilization around sustainable environmental policy will help Organic Farmers Association coordinate strong campaigns to realize wins for organic farmers in Washington, D.C.,” said Organic Farmers Association director Kate Mendenhall.  

As Policy Director, Hawkins will work directly with Organic Farmers Association’s elected Policy Committee, comprised of twelve certified organic farmer members and six advisory organizational members from six U.S. geographic regions. She will facilitate the annual grassroots policy development process, where all U.S. certified organic farmers are invited to submit policy priorities and policy positions for the Policy Committee’s review, and ultimately OFA farmer members’ vote.  She will also lead OFA’s efforts on the upcoming farm bill, making sure organic farmers’ priorities are included.

Hawkins will build on the robust policy program led for the past three years by Lovera.  Lovera will continue to be an advisor to OFA during the transition and comments,  “Lily Hawkins will be a strong advocate for organic farmer policy priorities, and is well positioned to bring a strong organic voice into the development of the next Farm Bill.”  

Hawkins will begin her work at Organic Farmers Association preparing certified organic farmers for the upcoming farm bill and Washington, D.C. advocacy day in March 2023 when certified organic farmers from across the country will unite for training and advocacy to represent their fellow organic farmers and educate elected officials about the needs of organic farmers.

To join or support Organic Farmers Association in its efforts to bring an organic voice to national policy, please visit OrganicFarmersAssociation.org

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ABOUT ORGANIC FARMERS ASSOCIATION: The mission of the Organic Farmers Association is to provide a strong and unified national voice for domestic certified organic producers. With the purpose to build and support a farmer-led national organic farmer movement and national policy platform by developing and advocating policies that benefit organic farmers; strengthening and supporting the capacity of organic farmers and farm organizations; and supporting collaboration and leadership among state, regional and national organic farmer organizations. Learn more at OrganicFarmersAssociation.org.

 

Media Contact:

Kate Mendenhall
Executive Director
Email: Kate@OrganicFarmersAssociation.org 
Phone: 202-643-5363

 


Pipeline Foods "Clawback" Letters

Information for Organic Farmers Who Sold Grain to Pipeline Foods

On July 8, 2021, organic and non-GMO grain buyer Pipeline Foods filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Earlier this year, the company’s bankruptcy proceeding was finalized by a court in Delaware.

Unfortunately, for some organic farmers who sold to Pipeline, this situation is still not behind them. This summer, some farmers have received “clawback” letters from a law firm in Minnesota serving as the trustee for Pipeline Foods’ liquidation.

IF YOU HAVE RECEIVED ONE OF THESE LETTERS, DO NOT IGNORE IT.  Unfortunately, this seems to be a legitimate part of the bankruptcy process.

The letters claim that farms that were paid by Pipeline Foods during the 90 days leading up to the bankruptcy filing (on July 8, 2021) now must return a portion of that payment to the bankruptcy proceeding.

Here are some things you can do if you have received one of these letters:

  1. Gather information about your history with Pipeline Foods – how many times did you sell grain to the company, on what dates, when did they make payment, etc. This could be important in establishing that the payment you got during the 90-day period before the bankruptcy was similar to your previous transactions with the company.  If you have contracts with Pipeline, gather those as well.
  2. Contact an attorney. If you already have an attorney you use for farm business, start with them. Ask if they have experience with bankruptcy proceedings. If not, ask them to refer you to someone who does.
  3. When you show the letter from the bankruptcy trustee to your attorney, ask them to look into two possible arguments to make in response:
  • Your payment should be exempt from a preference claim because it was made in the “ordinary course of business.”
  • Your payment should be exempt from a preference claim because it was a contemporaneous transaction made for “new value.” (This would apply to payments made for grain delivered within 90 days before the bankruptcy date.)
              These exemptions are spelled out under 11 USC 547(c).
  1. Ask for an extension. The letter from the trustee gives a very tight deadline to reply with a payment. The first step your attorney may want to take is to ask for more time to formulate your response explaining why your payment is not subject to clawback by the trustee.
  2. Let OFA know if you have received one of these letters. We will try to keep people updated and share resources about ways to respond. You can email Kate Mendenhall, OFA Executive Director, kate@organicfarmersassociation.org or fill out a short survey about your situation.  Knowing how many farmers have been affected will help us strategize on the best way to help you as a whole.


September 2022 Policy Update

September 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

USDA Support for Organic Transition

On June 1st, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack gave a speech on the USDA’s plans to transform the American food system, focusing on increasing resilience in food supply chains. One of the plans he announced was for USDA to establish a program, funded with $300 million, to assist farms that are transitioning to organic certification. On August 22nd, USDA released more details on the Organic Transition Initiative, which will provide $300 million to three areas:

  1. $100 million for “wrap around technical assistance” for farms going through the transition process. The USDA plans to “build partnership networks in six regions across the U.S. with trusted local organizations serving direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities…The organizations will connect transitioning farmers with mentors, building paid mentoring networks to share practical insights and advice.”
  2. $100 million for direct assistance to farmers through conservation and crop insurance programs. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will develop a new organic management conservation practice standard and offer financial and technical assistance to producers who implement the practice, and increase organic expertise at each of its regional technology support centers. USDA will also create a new Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program at the Risk Management Agency, which will support transitioning and certain certified organic producers’ participation in crop insurance, including coverage of a portion of their insurance premium.
  3. $100 million to improve organic supply chains. USDA will focus on key organic markets where the need for domestic supply is high, or where additional processing and distribution capacity is needed for more robust organic supply chains. More details on this initiative will be released later this year.

Changes to Crop Insurance Programs Used by Specialty Crop and Diversified Farms

At the end of August, the USDA announced changes to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) and Micro Farm insurance programs. The WFRP program provides protection for all eligible commodities on a farm under one insurance policy. Changes to WFRP include:

  • Doubling the maximum insurable revenue to $17 million
  • Allowing a producer to report and self-certify yield at the beginning of the year for commodities without other insurance options in a way similar to those with individual crop policies.
  • Eliminating expense reporting to reduce paperwork burden. In place of expense reporting, WFRP will reduce the expected revenue of commodities a producer is unable to plant to 60%, similar to prevented planting for other programs.

The MicroFarm program is offered through WFRP and provides coverage for all eligible commodities on a farm under one insurance policy on a smaller scale. The program used to be for farms with up to 100,000 in approved revenue, and now the limit has been raised to $350,000.

These updates to WFRP and Micro Farm take effect in crop year 2023.

Annual Spending Bills Support Organic Programs

This month, Congress needs to address the upcoming deadline for passing annual spending bills for federal agencies like the USDA. October 1 is the beginning of the federal government’s new fiscal year, and Congress needs to pass new “appropriations” bills or an extension by that date, or the federal government will partially shut down. At this point, it is likely that Congress will have to pass an extension, probably until early December, and then try to pass new bills for the rest of the fiscal year.

In the appropriations bills that have been drafted for the USDA for Fiscal Year 2023, organic programs are faring well. The House has already passed a bill that would increase funding for the National Organic Program and included language to direct the NOP to strengthen their enforcement of organic soil health requirements. The Senate has a draft bill, which also included an increase in funding for the NOP and good report language on enforcement. The bill still has to be passed by the full Senate, and then any differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled.

Participate in the National Organic Standards Board’s Fall Meeting

The NOSB meets twice a year to work on recommendations to the USDA about organic standards and the National List of materials that are allowed or prohibited in organic production. After several years of virtual meetings, the NOSB is planning for an in-person meeting in October in Sacramento, California.

  • Public Comment Webinar Day 1: Tuesday, October 18 from Noon - 5:00 pm Eastern
  • Public Comment Webinar Day 2: Thursday, October 20 from Noon - 5:00 pm Eastern
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 1: Tuesday, October 25 from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Pacific
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 2: Wednesday, October 26 from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Pacific
  • NOSB Public Meeting Day 3: Thursday, October 27 from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Pacific

You can watch the meeting online, and the public comment portions of the meeting will still be virtual.  Meeting information and the registration form to sign up for public comment are here (registration form is at bottom of page.)


Proposed Animal Welfare Standards

By Harriet Behar

Even though the NOP organic standards state that all organic livestock should have access to the outdoors, an opportunity to express their natural behavior and have living conditions that lessen stress to promote health and well-being, these rules have not been universally implemented by all USDA organic operations. Large organic poultry operations have provided small “porches” and have convinced the NOP and certifiers that this is the same as providing outdoor access. Operations that do provide outdoor access, with living vegetation, shade, food and water have a significant economic investment that others have avoided. The NOP has acknowledged that there has been a “market failure” with many organic producers providing quality humane living conditions and others mirror standard confined animal practices, creating confusion in the marketplace.

The Obama administration published a final rule in January 2017 to make organic regulations more in line with other animal welfare certifications. The Trump administration withdrew the rule later that same year, and it was not implemented. In the past five years and prior to 2017, many organic livestock producers have felt the need to pay for additional animal welfare certifications, to differentiate themselves from other organic operations and more clearly communicate to consumers the humane aspects of their operations.

SOME PROBLEMS WITH THE RULE

IMPLEMENTATION TIMELINE

A significant difference between the 2017 version and the 2022 version of this rule, is a proposed implementation timeline for avian outdoor access. The NOP has proposed either a 5-year or 15-year implementation timeframe for operations currently certified as organic. Many organic advocacy groups have spoken out against both the 5- and 15-year implementation timeframe. It can be argued that to be fair to all crop and livestock operations that make investments and capital improvements when they transition to organic, providing a three-year “transition” to providing true outdoor access is the only fair way to approach this implementation. The NOP should prioritize the majority of organic livestock operations that for years have upheld humane animal standards to provide outdoor access and allow animals to express their natural instincts, and have suffered unfair competition with operations that do not provide their poultry meaningful outdoor access. Rapid implementation is needed to remedy this situation as quickly as possible.

NATURAL LIGHT REQUIREMENT

Birds should not be allowed to be kept in darkness during the daytime. This statement from the 2017 version was removed: Natural light must be sufficient indoors on sunny days so that the inspector can read and write when all lights are turned off. Confinement raised ducks are commonly kept in dimly lit or dark conditions in buildings with no windows. Numerous humane animal standards require sufficient natural light during the day along with artificial light of limited duration as the days get shorter. Organic farmers advocating for improvement in this area can make a difference.

VEGETATIVE COVER OF OUTDOOR ACCESS

The new regulation only requires half the outdoor access area to be soil and that soil should have “maximal vegetative cover” appropriate for the season, climate, geography, and species of livestock. This is another area where more specificity is needed. What does “maximal vegetative cover” look like on your farm? What do you do to promote healthy height and density to provide a quality forage area? Rotation, renovation, reseeding, and irrigation are used to provide lush vegetation that provides for healthy livestock as well as protection of soil and water quality. Areas of gravel and concrete should be limited to areas of high usage or possible erosion, such as right next to the doors, at roof driplines, walkways, and food and water areas. The vegetated area needs to be as close as possible to the building, and not be around the corner of the building where the birds might never use it. The vegetation should be managed in a way so it can regenerate and not permanently be denuded.

TEMPERATURE

As written now, the birds can be temporarily confined inside when the outside temperature is below 40 degrees and above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Most birds can tolerate a larger temperature range. In many areas of the country, this keeps the birds confined for a significant portion of the year. Can you give examples of what you do on your farm and its effect on your birds?

BIRD DENSITY

Both the indoor and outdoor sq ft per bird requirements are at the lower end of the humane certifications. Outdoor areas for broilers is set at 1-1.25 sq ft per bird, for mature layers it is set at about 1.5 sq ft per hen, and for pullets it is set at about 1 sq ft per hen. Indoor areas for mature layers is set at 1-1.5 sq ft per bird depending on the type of housing and for broilers 1-1.25 sq ft per bird. The actual numbers in the regulation are based upon the average weight of the birds in the flock, so these numbers are approximate. European standards require approximately 42 sq ft per bird, but this can be accomplished through repeated rotations in a variety of areas over a full season, encouraging producers to continually move their flocks. This lessens parasite and disease problems, provides for healthier vegetation, and protects soil and water quality from the damage of overstocking. What suggestions do you have for stocking rates and forage management?

SWINE TAIL DOCKING & NEEDLE TEETH CLIPPING

Needle teeth clipping and tail docking in pigs is not typically allowed in humane standards. In this regulation, they are only allowed when documented that “alternative steps to prevent harm fail.” This area could be strengthened with more descriptive wording to provide more space and better living conditions which remove the need for these alterations. Swine producers are encouraged to provide further descriptions that have worked in their operations.

TEMPORARY CONFINEMENT OF YOUNG DAIRY CALVES

Should young dairy calves be allowed to be temporarily confined indoors for up to six months or until weaned? There is an allowance for this, as long as the calves can see, hear and smell other calves. Youngstock benefit from being outdoors, especially when seasonally appropriate. Should there be a requirement for some outdoor access for these young animals?

The NOP has acknowledged that consumers will pay more for livestock products where poultry are truly outdoors as well as all species being managed under humane requirements. Consumers deserve a speedy implementation to lessen the current market confusion and the profusion of labeling claims. The organic label should consistently uphold consumer expectations of healthy environmental and animal production practices. Your voice is important to this process!


TAKE ACTION! Tell USDA to finalize and enforce strong organic animal welfare standards ASAP

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) Proposed Rule encompasses decades of widespread organic community debate and support to update organic standards with critical animal welfare provisions.

Click to read & sign our PETITION to USDA

OLPS clarifies the production standards of avian and mammalian livestock to support consistent enforcement across producers and re-establish a strong organic label that assures consumers that USDA-certified organic livestock products meet a robust and uniform standard valuing both environmental and animal welfare. The proposed rule:

  • Clarifies living conditions, healthcare, transportation, and slaughter practices to support animal welfare for mammalian livestock species.
  • Establishes poultry indoor and outdoor space requirements and stocking density limits, and clarifies that enclosed porches are not considered outdoor spaces.

Current USDA organic standards already require outdoor access and appropriate living conditions for poultry and livestock that allow animals to express their natural instincts. The majority of organic livestock farmers uphold these standards; however, these regulations have not been consistently enforced and some certifiers have allowed large poultry companies to use narrow, enclosed porches instead of true outdoor access. This inequitable enforcement and interpretation has created an unfair playing field for organic livestock farmers and has undermined consumers’ confidence in the organic label.  OLPS clarifies the standards for animal living conditions to require true outdoor access and room to express natural instincts for all poultry operations.

USDA has proposed two possible implementation periods (5 years vs 15 years) for certified egg-producing operations to meet the outdoor space requirements for laying hens. These stronger standards are long overdue and USDA needs to set a faster timeline for when organic operations need to meet these standards. Take action now to 1) demonstrate widespread industry and consumer support for the proposed rule and 2) tell USDA to set a more aggressive implementation time of 3 years (letting them know that the 15-year implementation plan is NOT viable).

What’s at Stake?

Health and competitiveness of family farms – inconsistent animal welfare standards for organic chickens create an unlevel playing field for organic farmers already providing true outdoor access.

Advancement of organic animal welfare  75% of Americans are either very or somewhat concerned about the treatment of animals by the meat and dairy industry.

Consumer trust and integrity of the organic label – 89% of Americans say the USDA should periodically review and update the organic standards to keep pace with new science and consumer expectations.

Click to read & sign our PETITION to USDA