“Second Day of Life” Rule for organic poultry challenged

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August 27, 2015 - The ongoing effort to tighten federal “origin of livestock” rules for organic dairy producers has inspired one industry watchdog to demand similar requirements for organic chicken producers, who overwhelmingly rely on conventionally-raised chicks to stock organic flocks.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), in recent comments on the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) proposed new rules for transitioning conventionally-raised dairy cows to organic management, asked the agency to reconsider “second day of life” rules for poultry, which requires organic management only from the birds’ second day of life forward.

The AMS livestock proposal specifically exempts organic poultry from the new rules under consideration, CFS noted.

“When compared to the requirements for other organic livestock, this exemption is an obvious outlier,” according to CFS’ comments. “Allowing this loophole weakens rather than strengthens the integrity of the organic label.”

The “second day of life” rule was initially intended as a temporary measure to encourage the establishment of the organic chicken industry, said Lisa Bunin, Organic Policy Director for CFS.

“Fifteen years ago, it was a ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation,” Bunin said. “How could you require that chicks come from organic hatcheries when there were no organic hatcheries? We had to rely on conventional hatcheries to get the industry going.”

But poultry rules have not evolved much in the intervening years, Bunin said, and organic hatcheries have not emerged, as they are at a financial disadvantage compared to conventional operations. Most troubling, Bunin said, is that the rule makes it legal to dose day-old chicks with antibiotics, then designate them as ‘organic’ the next day. The rule also fails to protect breeder hens from beak trimming, confinement, drug use and other money-saving management techniques otherwise forbidden in organic production, she said.

“We are not castigating organic with our comments,” Bunin said. “Organic is a very transparent system of agriculture, and is by far the best for the animals and consumers and the workers and the environment. We are addressing what we see as shortcomings of the system and asking for ongoing improvements in that system.”

In its comments, CFS has asked that the AMS eliminate the exemption from “origin of livestock” regulations currently applied to organic poultry. 

The comment period for the AMS/National Organic Program livestock rules has closed, and 1,570 comments were logged on the agency’s website.

Image courtesy of USDA

By Maria Gaura, OFRF Communications