The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has proposed amending the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by: adding new provisions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions; and expanding and clarifying existing requirements covering livestock health care practices and mammalian living conditions. The list of proposals can be found at

Perdue Farms issued a statement supporting the proposal to give broilers more room inside chicken houses, ensure sufficient pasture space with ready access to the outdoors and require husbandry practices that promote natural behaviors.

“Consumers view USDA Certified Organic as the gold standard in agricultural production, and that includes animal welfare,” said Randy Day, chief operating officer, Perdue Farms. “As the leading producer of organic chicken, we fully endorsed the National Organic Program’s desire to strengthen what it means when products carry the Organic seal.”

“Specific requirements for space and indoor air quality, outdoor access and enrichments that promote natural behaviors will further differentiate organic chicken from conventional production in a meaningful way, and we welcome the adoption of uniform and verifiable standards,” added Day. In response to the USDA’s request for public comment on the proposed rule, Perdue Farms has submitted a letter to the Federal Register supporting the National Organic Program. In its letter, Perdue also asks that the implementation deadline for additional space be extended from one year to three years. This will ensure the ongoing availability of organic chicken for consumers while producers expand farm space.

“We are fully committed to providing organic choices to customers, consumers and farmers, and to maintaining the integrity of USDA organic certification,” said Day. “The USDA is a vital partner to everyone who supports the growth of organic production, and we laud their leadership in ensuring consumer trust in the organic label.”

The National Chicken Council (NCC) issued a separate statement and recommends revising or clarifying several key aspects of the proposed rule.

"NCC is concerned that the proposed rule imposes unreasonable costs and requirements of doubtful benefit on organic farmers, presents grave risks to animal health… and undermines ongoing international efforts to develop poultry welfare standards," said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC Senior Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, in comments submitted yesterday to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The proposed standards are assumed to increase the mortality rates for laying hens and broiler chickens from 5 to 8 percent, a 60 percent increase. Mortality rates are a key indicator of animal welfare and flock health, yet the proposed changes would increase mortality, significantly decreasing bird welfare and farmer economic viability.

The proposed standards are also in direct opposition to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recommendations for biosecurity. In light of the recent, devastating outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), it is vital farmers retain the ability to make timely preventive measures to protect their flocks. Under the current proposed rule, a "documented occurrence of a disease in the region or relevant migratory pathway must be present before outdoor access can be restricted," with unclear definitions of what constitutes a region or documented occurrence.

Dr. Peterson also noted the proposal drastically underestimates, or neglects to estimate, the cost of the requirements and the impact of those costs. "NOP does not include the cost of an avian illness outbreak, the likelihood and magnitude of which is materially increased through the proposed outdoor access requirement." In other words, avian illness outbreaks like the 2015 HPAI outbreak will be more likely to occur, and the effects will be more likely to be greater, under the proposal. The direct economic consequences of the 2015 HPAI outbreak were estimated to be approximately $3.3 billion, far overshadowing the anticipated maximum benefit of $62.6 million per year in the proposed rule.

Sources: USDA, Perdue Farms, NCC