USDA extends organic livestock rule comment period

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, June 7, 2016 - USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has announced an extension of the comment period on a proposed rule dealing with organic livestock production practices.

The proposed rule, rolled out in April, details the animal welfare practices for organic livestock production. It includes many changes, such as restrictions for tail docking and beak alterations, but the proposals dealing with outdoor access for poultry caught the most attention. The proposed rule called for year-round outdoor access with “at least 50 percent soil cover” and access to sunlight and shade.

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The requirement of “suitable enrichment to entice birds to go outside” also drew ire from some ag leaders, particularly Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan.  In remarks to reporters, Roberts has been quick to joke about what constituted poultry enrichment activities, offering suggestions ranging from yoga to easy listening music.

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In a joint statement, Roberts and Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican and his House Ag Committee counterpart, were joined by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the committees' ranking Democrats. They said they were “pleased USDA acted immediately to allow producers, consumers, retailers and animal health experts more time to offer their comments on the proposed rules.”

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack two weeks ago, the leaders requested a 90-day extension of the comment period, but USDA's announcement pushes back the deadline 30 days. Interested parties have until July 13 to comment.

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