On October 25, 2023, USDA made available a  prepublication version of the National Organic Program (NOP) Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Final Rule.

“This organic poultry and livestock standard establishes clear and strong standards that will increase the consistency of animal welfare practice in organic production and in how these practices are enforced,” said Vilsack. “Competitive markets help deliver greater value to all producers, regardless of size.”

USDA received more than 40,000 written comments on the proposed rule including comments by the National Chicken Council.

One of NCC’s major concerns was about the biosecurity threats of year-round outdoor access leading to a potential increase in highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) cases occurring in the United States.  NCC asked for additional guidance on the topic.  In this final rule, AMS stated that their own research was “inconclusive regarding the correlation between outdoor access and decreased food and animal safety” and directed concerned parties to their website for questions.

The final rule outlines standards in six particular areas.

  1. Outdoor Space Requirements.  The final rule will set a minimum outdoor space requirement that consists of at least 75 percent soil and include vegetation where possible.
  2. Indoor and Outdoor Living Conditions.  Livestock and poultry must have the space to lie down, stand up, turn around, and fully stretch their limbs or wings while expressing “natural behaviors.” Bedding must be large, dry, comfortable, clean, and not cause lesions.
  3. Poultry Stocking Densities.  Stocking densities must align with advisory board recommendations, third-party animal welfare standards, and public comments from organic stakeholders.
  4. Preventative Health Care Practices.  Organic producers will be required to maintain preventative health care practices. Animals must be treated with allowed medicines to minimize pain and suffering even if doing so causes the animal to lose its organic status.
  5. Physical Alterations and Euthanasia.  If it is for the safety of the animal, some alterations may be justified while others are prohibited entirely. Alterations must be performed when the animal is young in order to minimizes pain and stress. Euthanasia may be used if treatment is not an option.
  6. Transport, Handling, and Slaughter.  If transport exceeds eight hours, the maintenance of organic management and animal welfare must be described by operations. Animals must be fit for transport. The mode of transportation must be seasonally appropriate. All operations must adhere to FSIS humane slaughter standards.

A fact sheet can be found here.