Strengthening US organic standards on animal health and welfare
Organic livestock production has been increasing in the US, although it still merely constitutes a small fraction of total production. Its success will require detailed standards supported by scientific knowledge and consistent with organic farming principles. However, such standards, mandated under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, are yet to be fully developed. Regulations issued by the USDA's National Organic Program identify livestock health and welfare concerns that must be addressed in a farmer's organic farm plan (eg that there be appropriate housing). However, specifics regarding achievement of these goals are not provided in the form of clear standards for organic livestock production. This paper provides a new starting point to further the development of such standards. First, we outline a rationale based upon the legal context and state of the organic livestock industry detailing the reasons why development of these standards is timely. Second, using a review of existing organic and non-organic national and international animal health and welfare standards, a search of available scientific research, and a consensus of key stakeholders, we identify areas in which organic standards should be readily adopted. We conclude by presenting one example of a plausible organic standard for each of four major US livestock categories: minimum space for feedlot beef cattle; prohibition of routine tail-docking in dairy cows; provision of perches for laying hens and prohibition of gestation crates for sows.
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