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Long-awaited Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) rule finalized

Our hard work has paid off – thank you! 

Today the Organic Trade Association (OTA) is celebrating the long-awaited strengthening of organic animal welfare standards by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This action by the department is a major win for organic producers, consumers and for all of you who have steadily advocated for more robust regulations. 

The final Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) regulation, announced today by the USDA, creates clear standards for outdoor access for organic poultry including minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements, and further clarifies living conditions, healthcare, transportation, and slaughter practices for all organic avian and mammalian livestock species. Most importantly, the rule clarifies that screened-in, enclosed porches do NOT qualify as sufficient outdoor space for organic chickens. Current organic poultry producers have up to five years to implement the new regulations. 

Almost twenty years in the making, the new rules would not have happened without the persistence of your trade association and our dedicated members. These new standards not only create a more level playing field for organic producers, but they ensure consumers that the organic meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs they choose have been raised with plenty of access to the real outdoors, and in humane conditions.

Having clear, consistent and enforceable standards is paramount for the organic sector to maintain consumer trust, and to also ensure that farms and businesses of all sizes have a fair shot at competing in the marketplace by meeting a minimum set of requirements. 

Outdoor access has always been a core tenet for organic poultry and livestock production, but USDA organic regulations regarding outdoor access have not been consistently enforced, nor sufficiently clarified, resulting in some large poultry companies utilizing narrow, enclosed porches – usually with a cement floor – instead of true outdoor access. The result has been an unlevel playing field for all the organic farmers who treat their birds right. Indeed, the USDA has acknowledged that the inconsistent interpretation of regulations has caused competitive harm to the organic farmers already adhering to the most robust animal welfare standards. Worse yet, while the drama of the struggle has centered on poultry, all livestock operations were prevented from having the USDA implement consistent and clear standards for animal welfare.

The road to this final regulation has been long, and often bumpy. In 2010, USDA issued a final rule creating clear standards for grazing and access to pasture for organic dairy and cattle, but the poultry sector was left without similar clarifications. USDA released its final Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) regulation in early 2017, after some 14 years of vetting and review by organic stakeholders and industry and government experts. The implementation of that final rule, however, was delayed and blocked, and the rule was ultimately withdrawn. 

In the fall of 2017, OTA filed a lawsuit against the USDA for unlawfully delaying the implementation of the regulation and violating the Organic Foods Production Act. Legal action in Washington is expensive, and we were able to take this action because of critical and generous funding from a group of our members. I’d like to thank those members by name now: Organic Valley, Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs, Chino Valley Ranchers, Heritage Poultry Management Services, Egg Innovations, Applegate, Hidden Villa Ranch/Nest Fresh, Stonyfield Farm, Farmers Hen House, Aurora Organic Dairy, The J.M. Smucker Company, Wilcox Farms, Fairfield Specialty Eggs, Mid-States Specialty Eggs, National Co+op Grocers, Handsome Brook Farm, Vital Farms, CFS Specialties, Kalmbach Feeds, Pleasantview Farm, Sarah Bird, and Doug Crabtree.

Spurred on by the lawsuit and continuing advocacy from the organic sector and the public for stronger animal welfare standards, the current Administration proposed the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards regulation last August.  

Our celebration today of this much needed and sound regulation was made possible by all of you, and by your advocacy and hard work. It's time now to turn from suing USDA to working with them and organic producers to implement this important rule that helps maintain and grow consumer trust in the organic label. This is a victory not just for poultry, but for the entire organic sector – and for all organic consumers. 

Together, we grow organic.  

Tom Chapman

CEO/Executive Director 

Organic Trade Association