OFA testifies to USDA on Animal Welfare Stds

Friday, August 19, 2022
Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director
Organic Farmers Association

RE: USDA NOP Public Listening Session on regulatory requirements for organic livestock and poultry standards via Webinar Testimony
Thank you, National Organic Program for the opportunity to share our initial input on the proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule.  My name is Kate Mendenhall, I am the Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association.  OFA was created to be a strong national voice and advocate for domestic certified organic farmers.  We are farmer-run and controlled.

In 2018 OFA organic farmer members voted to support animal welfare requirements in the OLPP Rule and animal welfare standards have continued to be a top priority.  We are pleased to see it re-enter the public comment arena and hope for swift finalization and implementation.

Organic standards already require livestock have the ability to express natural behaviors and outdoor access. OLPS needs clear standards that close loopholes and provide certifiers and farms with regulations that allow for consistent interpretation, implementation, and enforcement.

Nationally, farmers want organic standards to cover animal welfare so they are not burdened by the need for additional labels or certifications.  In a recent national survey of 150 certified organic farms, we saw high support (over 75%) for addressing additional standards and claims within the organic label.

Implementation:  Our first comment focuses on the implementation timeline.  The majority of organic poultry and livestock farmers already comply with OLPS standards.  A 15-year implementation proposed in Option 2 will cause continued undue economic harm to these farms as they are already burdened by competition from unequal standards and enforcement.  Large-scale poultry operations have been aware of OLPP requirements for more than five years and have had time to plan implementation. Standard depreciation on poultry buildings is 10 years, so the past five years since OLPP plus the additional 5 years of implementation in OLPS is more than sufficient.  Option 1 or a more aggressive implementation timeline should be enacted.  Option 2 is not viable.

For poultry outdoor space requirements:  we feel that poultry should ALWAYS have access to outdoor space (as required in 205.239(a)(1)) with vegetation coverage because this makes them healthier birds and allows them to express their natural instincts.  To maintain this, facilities must have enough pasture for rotation and sufficient rejuvenation of pasture with a specific door size per density or building size that encourages daily outdoor activity.

For poultry indoor space requirements, we feel that stocking density is appropriate for layer and broiler mobile housing but could be increased for other indoor housing.

Mammalian housing seems sufficient except that swine stocking density and outdoor access is left without guidance.  This is an area where OLPS standards are much weaker than other animal welfare standards, and could cause farmers to seek additional certifications.

In preventative healthcare, the standards allow for swine needle teeth clipping and tail docking if undefined alternatives fail.[1]  These practices indicate a management problem and leave ambiguity for certifiers and farmers.  They do not align with other 3rd party animal welfare certification programs, which prohibit or strictly limit both practices.

Overall, clarity of standards is crucial, and leaving vague references without guidance will lead to inconsistent implementation by certifiers and farms.   We encourage you to keep standards high, specific, and implement them quickly.

[1] Tail Docking:
Animal Welfare Approved: Tail docking is prohibited.
Animal Welfare Certified (Whole Foods): prohibited at all levels.
Certified Humane: Tail docking is not permitted except in exceptional circumstances and even then, only the minimum amount of tail necessary may be routine. If the risk of tail-biting exists, other measures should be taken to prevent tail biting such as environmental enrichment or reducing stocking densities. If by veterinary recommendation tail docking should be done, HFAC must be notified before tail-docking is permitted. The method and age of the animals, as well as the justification for the procedure, will be reviewed. Following review, the producer will be notified of the decision from HFAC.
American Humane Certified: Tail docking is permitted to avoid the pain and suffering caused by tail biting. If performed, it must be carried out as early as possible and not later than 7 days of age. Under the direction of the herd veterinarian, the use of pain mitigation should be employed when effective and appropriate options exist. Producers should also be encouraged to use genetic lines less prone to tail biting. American Humane will continue to revisit this issue as pain mitigation and tail-biting intervention strategies develop.

Needle teeth adulteration:
Animal Welfare Approved: Clipping, grinding or filing of the needle teeth of piglets is prohibited.
Animal Welfare Certified (Whole Foods): prohibited at all levels.
Certified Humane: The removal of the points of needle teeth of newborn pigs must not be carried out routinely. Requests for permission to undertake this procedure, together with welfare-related reasons must be submitted in writing to the HFAC staff, who will consider the information and, if necessary may visit the unit. This must include the number of instances of: Facial scarring Udder damage Including the number of pigs included. 1. If the procedure is permitted, the points of the needle teeth of newborn pigs may only be removed as early as possible within the first 4 hours of life. In the case of sick or weak piglets, within 3 days of birth. This procedure must leave an intact smooth surface to the teeth. a) Tooth trimming must only be carried out by a trained and competent person. b) No more than the first third of the tooth may be removed. c) The procedure must leave an intact smooth surface to the teeth. d) Grinding of the sharp point of the teeth is preferable to clipping, as this is less likely to break the tooth or remove too much of the tooth.
American Humane Certified:  Only where necessary to prevent injury to the sow during milking or to other piglets, needle teeth of newborn piglets may be trimmed within the first 24 hours of life, or in the case of weak or sick piglets, within 3 days of birth.  No more than the first third of the tooth may be removed and care must be taken to avoid damage to the gums and splintering of the teeth.