Skip to main content

Helping Organics Grow with Clear Livestock and Poultry Standards

Posted by Elanor Starmer, AMS Administrator in Conservation Food and Nutrition Farming
Feb 21, 2017
Proposed Rule Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices infographic
USDA has proposed changes to ensure consumer confidence in the growing organic market by promoting consistency across the organic industry, supporting the continued growth of the organic livestock and poultry sector. Click to enlarge.

The mission of the National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is to protect the integrity of USDA organic products in our country and throughout the world. This means clearly defining what it means to be organic and enforcing those rules.  Consumers look for and trust the organic seal because they know that USDA stands behind the standards that it represents.

Today, USDA is taking action by announcing that we will soon publish and invite public comment on a proposed rule regarding organic livestock and poultry practices.  It’s an important step that will strengthen consumer confidence in the label and ensure that organic agriculture continues to provide economic opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and businesses around the country.

The proposal aims to clarify how organic producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and wellbeing throughout life, including transport and slaughter. It would clarify existing USDA organic regulations and add new requirements for organic livestock and poultry living conditions, transport, and slaughter practices. For example, the proposed rule establishes minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for organic poultry and clarifies that outdoor spaces must be soil-based.

Today’s proposed rule is based on extensive input from the organic community and stakeholders about organic livestock production and handling. It’s also consistent with direction from Congress in the Organic Foods Production Act, which directed the USDA to hold public hearings and develop detailed regulations to guide the implementation of the organic standards for livestock products. The regulations that created the National Organic Program also explained that USDA would develop species-specific guidelines and space requirements for organic animals. Furthermore, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member advisory committee that represents all sectors of the organic community, has made a number of recommendations that were vital to the development of the rule.  The large number of public comments submitted to the NOSB, as well as other communication with the USDA, tells us that most stakeholders strongly support rulemaking in this area.

The total retail market for organic products is now valued at more than $39 billion in the United States.  AMS announced on Monday that from 2014 to 2015, the sector grew by 12 percent. USDA has strengthened programs that support organic operations over the past seven years, helping to make organic certification more accessible, attainable, and affordable through a "Sound and Sensible" approach. This initiative includes streamlining the certification process, focusing on enforcement and working with farmers and processors to correct small issues before they become larger ones.

USDA has also established a number of resources to help organics producers find technical and financial resources to help them grow domestically and abroad. The site creates a one-stop-shop for operators, and USDA has made market and pricing information for approximately 250 organic products available free of charge through USDA's Market News. In 2015, USDA made more than $11.5 million available to assist organic operations with their certification costs.

USDA strongly supports organic agriculture and is committed to establishing a level playing field that protects all organic farms and businesses. Transparency and public participation are vital to USDA’s work in organics. We encourage the organic community, consumers, industry, and other stakeholders to provide comments and feedback on the proposed rule. Here is the Federal Register link:

Write a Response

CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Randy J. Quenneville
Apr 08, 2016

How about requiring individual animal ID so that the slaughter plant can't just provide the inspector with a slip from the trucker saying this cow was picked up a an Organic farm.
Also make it clear that Organic Dairy cows do not necessarily meet the requirements for organic beef!

Evelyn White
Apr 08, 2016

I am very interested in raising chickens to offer a natural organic meat. Is this something I can search out a grant for to help me get started? I had a small flock at one time and a neighbor did the slaughtering for me with their equipment, but would like to expand beyond my family as a source of income since we have new butchers in the area that I could maybe get them to market . If there is, or even if the farm bill "link" of which I saw your link covers it please let me know so I can possibly apply, Thank you, Evelyn White

Marsha Cotteleer
Apr 11, 2016

Why is this only happening for "Organic Livestock"? Shouldn't "species-specific guidelines and space requirements" be the same whether someone is selling the byproduct of the animals death as organic or not? Why not focus on the horrible conditions that the unlucky factory farmed beef cows, dairy cows, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, fur animals, etc. have to endure before their untimely deaths? How about addressing the horrid practice of veal crates, sow gestation crates, battery cages, Kosher and Halal slaughter, etc.
"It would clarify existing USDA organic regulations and add new requirements for organic livestock and poultry living conditions, transport, and slaughter practices". Again, why are these any different from regular practices? Why does an "Organic Cow" get the luxury of a "humane" slaughter, whereas a "regular cow" gets an inhumane slaughter? Whatever that means...
I understand that labeling something "Organic" automatically raises the price and somehow makes people feel better about eating a deceased animal, but "Humane Slaughter" is a farce. If humans are going to continue to eat the flesh of animals, at least even up the playing field and make all animal welfare a concern, not just "organic animals".

Robbie Bos
Apr 11, 2016

I agree 100% with Marsha Cotteleer! Give every living creature a descent live before we chop it up and eat it. We give so much to every carrot and vegetable before yanking it out of the ground or off the tree, proper soil, excellent spacing for good growth, right amount of water. We want the best looking apple on the stack, knowing it must be the best one, yet we are okay eating animals that had a total inhumane and tortured life. We are sick creatures. We should give everything the best possible life, with lots of room to roam naturally, eat it's own proper diet, then I'll be happy eating it up. Buffalo tasted better when roaming the grasslands, squab tasted better when flying free to migrate. People naturally ate better. Now we think it is okay to eat cows that lie around in their own feces cause we do not allow them room to roam, or eat birds that never see the light of day or eat a single insect. Why is this such a difficult concept? USDA - do your job and force livestock and poultry farmers to give these animals a decent life. 2 square feet per chicken is a joke! It's not that hard USDA. Do what is right and set some realistic guidelines for the animals sake, please!

Josh Wilson
Apr 14, 2016

USDA can i please be add to any future news on this topic ? I try to follow certain topics and get a bunch of everything else in my emails. But this is a very serious topic i want to be kept in the loop on. Let me know how. Thanks

Arun Varma
May 09, 2016

Animal wellbeing through strict animal behaviour norms and environmental enrichment measures can generate real healthy animal based food like milk meat and egg