USDA’s National Organic Program Final Rule was the first USDA regulation to mention animal welfare. The Rule established standards around the content of livestock feed, stating, for example, that plastic pellets cannot be used as a source of roughage.
Sections 238 and 239 of the Rule also outlined livestock healthcare practice and living conditions standards, which provided for “conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement and reduction of stress appropriate to the species,” among other things.
Since the Rule was published, work on the issue of animal welfare has continued. The National Organic Standards Board’s Livestock Committee has made access to the outdoors for poultry a top priority on its work plan for Fall 2009. The development of a rule around organic ruminants’ access to pasture is also well underway.
Currently, organic regulations require that:
- Animal species and types be selected to site-specific conditions and for resistance to disease and parasites
- Animals must be maintained under condtions that provide for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to species
- Stress and pain must be minimized when conducting physical alterations to promote animals' welfare
- Farmers must provide access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight
- Living conditions must accommodate the health and natural behavior of livestock