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Updated Comments on the Proposed Rule:
Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

Added July 26, 2016 -- In the May 2016 NODPA News, we published a lengthy article on the comments for this proposed rule. The work continued since then and the following are the updated and final comments that have been submitted to NOP.

For the past three months, NODPA worked with Midwest Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (MODPA) and Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (WODPA) to submit comments on this Proposed Rule to bring some common sense, production-based criteria to regulations that are as specific as possible. Our comments reminded the NOP and organic consumers that organic certification is already the gold standard for animal welfare. It is not just a scorecard of the health and well-being of the livestock but is a third-party certified federal program with a holistic system approach that also considers the impact of the production system on the environment, the quality and content of animal feed, and ensures that livestock are not treated with any antibiotic, artificial hormones or growth stimulants.

Outlined below are some of the comments and changes we recommended. Our full comments are posted on our website, www.nodpa.com or available from us by mail.

Definitions: For the term “Outdoors”, remove “with at least 50 percent soil” to read: “Outdoors. Any area in the open air outside a building or shelter where there are no solid walls or solid roof attached to the indoor living space structure. ….” Requiring that mammalian outdoor access areas provide at least 50 percent soil would create permanent conditions rather than “temporary conditions” that threaten soil and water quality.

§ 205.238(a)(2) NOP added “resulting in appropriate condition” to this section and we recommended that it is not added: “2) Provision of a feed ration sufficient to meet nutritional requirements, including vitamins, minerals, protein and/or amino acids, fatty acids, energy sources, and fiber (ruminants);” The addition of “resulting in appropriate body condition” is unnecessary. Regulation requires documentation of the animal’s total feed ration, the amount of each type of feed actually fed, and all changes made to all rations throughout the year. Finally, “appropriate body condition” is a subjective determination influenced by species, breed, stage of life, age, gender, and time of year.

§ 205.238(a)(5) NOP added conditions to this section on who can make “physical alterations” but also introduced a loophole that would allow alterations for hygiene. We recommended amending the proposed to read: (5) Physical alterations may be performed to benefit the welfare or safety of the animals, or for identification purposes, except when prohibited by § 205.238(a)(5)(ii). Physical alterations must be performed on livestock at a reasonably young age, with minimal stress and effective pain relief. We believe the addition of hygiene serves no purpose, creates conflict among regulatory provisions and would create a loophole for justification for physical alterations.

§ 205.238(a)(8) and § 205.238(d) NOP proposed adding new sections to monitor and record lameness and level of parasitic infestation of a herd and we recommend deleting them. Producers are already required to keep these records.

§ 205.238(c)(1) NOP proposed amending § 205.238(c)(1) to enable cows being treated with drugs that have a withholding period under organic regulations may suckle their own calves and their calves would still remain organic. This is not workable on dairy farms where cows generally do not suckle their own offspring. In some production systems, calves are allowed to stay with the milking herd and inevitably suckle from many cows. There is no way to guarantee that the calf will only be fed or suckle just its mother’s milk. We recommended the following (1) Sell, label, or represent as organic any animal or edible product derived from any animal treated with antibiotics, any substance that contains a synthetic substance not allowed under § 205.603, or any substance that contains a nonsynthetic substance prohibited in § 205.604. Milk from animals undergoing treatment with synthetic substances allowed under § 205.603 having withholding time, cannot be sold as organic, fed to their own offspring, or fed to other organic animals. Milk from animals undergoing treatment with prohibited substances cannot be sold as organic or fed to organic livestock.

§ 205.238(c)(7) and (8) NOP introduced new wording an a new sections to deal with withholding treatment to maintain organic status and some guidance on euthanasia. We recommended combining the two sections to read: (7) Withhold medical treatment designed to minimize pain and suffering and restore health to injured, diseased, or ill animals in an effort to preserve its organic status. All appropriate medications, approved or unapproved, must be used to restore an animal to health when methods acceptable to organic production fail. Such treatment may include euthanasia as detailed in the producer’s written plan for prompt, humane euthanasia. This plan may include forms of euthanasia as recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Livestock and their products treated with a prohibited substance must be clearly identified and shall not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced. We believe this recommendation reflects current practice and existing regulation.

§ 205.238(e) NOP proposed adding a new section and three subsections addressing euthanasia. Our only recommendation here was to change “for prompt, humane euthanasia for sick or injured livestock” to “for prompt, humane euthanasia for animals suffering from irreversible disease or injury.” Current practice of organic dairy farmers is to euthanize animals that demonstrate to be irreversibly ill or irreversibly injured. We propose using the above language as more descriptive and this language is already being used in the National Dairy FARM Program Animal Care Manual.

§ 205.239(a)(3) NOP proposed making this section more complicated and not practical. We recommended that it be kept simple and highlight that bedding that can be eaten is organic. (3) Appropriate, clean, dry bedding. When roughages are used as bedding, they must be organically produced and handled in accordance with this part by certified operations, except as provided in § 205.236(a)(2)(i).

§ 205.239(a)(4)(i) NOP proposed taking the existing simple language ((i) Natural maintenance, comfort behaviors, and opportunity to exercise; ) that could cover all species and changing it to language that would never fit dairy cows. We recommended keeping the existing language and coming up with more species specific language for housing. For dairy cows we recommend the following: a new § 205.239(a)(12) to read: Dairy cattle housing: Bedded packs, compost packs, tie-stalls, free-stalls and stanchion barns are all acceptable as housing systems. These different types of facilities must be managed properly and outcome based standards will be used to monitor the general health, cleanliness, and well-being of livestock. Cattle require a clean dry place to lie down. There must be adequate space for all animals to lie down whether it is a bedded pack area or a stall.

§ 205.239(a)(7). This section deals with housing of calves and we recommended amendments that reflect current practices around group housing of calves without restricting the producers’ ability to maintain the animal’s health in many different production systems.

§ 205.239(a)(12) This section again deals with needing soil as part of outdoor access. If NOP wants to continue with this direction we recommend amending the proposal to read: At least 50 percent of outdoor access space must be soil, except for: (i) When conditions threaten the soil or water quality, outdoor access without soil must be provided temporarily. (ii) Cattle which may obtain outdoor access on improved yards, feeding pads, and feedlots without access to soil in accordance with section 205.239(a)(1).

§ 205.239(b)(7) NOP amended this section with revised wording to cover a loophole that some have used to deny access to the outside for long periods because of breeding. We recommend more definition that will leave no doubt and no loopholes: (7) Breeding: (i) Animals shall not be confined for more than 24 hours to perform natural or artificial insemination, (ii) Animals may not be confined to observe estrus, (iii) Once bred, ruminants shall not be denied access to pasture during the grazing season; and

§ 205.242 This section on Transport and Slaughter lacked clarity and definition in many areas. Our recommendations are to use more industry specific terminology, for example using the word “ambulatory” to describe animal that are fit to travel. We also recommended some changes in language to ensure that it is not cost prohibitive to transport organic cattle to auction or slaughter. On slaughter we recommended language that would ensure animal welfare and inspection from qualified personnel from drop-off at the plant to slaughter.