The USDA is proposing new standards for animal welfare for organic livestock and poultry producers. The department says that the proposed standards will help strengthen consumer confidence in the USDA Organic label and will ensure that organic agriculture continues to provide economic opportunities for farmers, ranchers and other business owners.

The proposal aims to clarify how organic producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and wellbeing throughout life, including transport and slaughter, the USDA said. It would clarify existing USDA organic regulations and add new requirements for organic livestock and poultry living conditions, transport, and slaughter practices. For example, the proposed rule establishes minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for organic poultry and clarifies that outdoor spaces must be soil-based.

“Today’s proposed rule is based on extensive input from the organic community and stakeholders about organic livestock production and handling,” the USDA said in announcing the proposal. “It’s also consistent with direction from Congress in the Organic Foods Production Act, which directed the USDA to hold public hearings and develop detailed regulations to guide the implementation of the organic standards for livestock products. The regulations that created the National Organic Program also explained that USDA would develop species-specific guidelines and space requirements for organic animals. Furthermore, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member advisory committee that represents all sectors of the organic community, has made a number of recommendations that were vital to the development of the rule.  The large number of public comments submitted to the NOSB, as well as other communication with the USDA, tells us that most stakeholders strongly support rulemaking in this area.”

Applegate, a leading organic meats company that is a stand-alone subsidiary or Hormel Foods, praised the proposal.

"Consumer confusion surrounding organic labeling of meat and poultry and what it means for animal welfare is prevalent," said Steve Lykken, Applegate president.  "With this long-awaited step in the right direction, the USDA will bring consumers' expectations much closer to reality."

Lykken added that Applegate's entire product portfolio – both natural and organic – is produced from animals that are humanely raised.

"Applegate has helped to pioneer a healthier and more humane meat production system in the United States for almost 30 years, especially in the area of antibiotic-free animal agriculture," said Lykken. "We hope the proposed rule will be enacted quickly so that other organic meat and poultry producers will have a framework for raising the bar on animal welfare standards."

To see the proposed rule, go to Once the rule posts to, the public will be able to comment on it.

Source: USDA, Applegate