There are just 10 more days to comment before USDA can finalize the Organic Livestock and Poultry rule for the National Organic Program. If enacted, new animal welfare standards would apply to animals raised under the USDA Organic label.

If it all sounds familiar it should. The rule is similar to one that was withdrawn during the Trump Administration. Annually, USDA’s National Organic Program oversees the handling of more than 186 million farm animals.

Animal rights groups, such as the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) are at the forefront of the lobby pushing for the rule.

The new rule is largely about details, for example:

— Screened-in areas with roofs no longer will count as outdoor access for egg-laying hens.

— Debeaking of birds would be prohibited.

— Tail docking of pigs would be prohibited.

— Face-branding and tail docking of cattle would be off-limits.

— Gestation crates for pregnant pigs would be banned.

— Perches would have to be provided for egg-laying hens.

— Pigs would be guaranteed bedding and roofing materials as “environmental enrichment.”

The current rule is said to have the endorsement by 57 U.S. representatives and 20 U.S. senators.

It is anticipated that USDA will give existing organic farmers up to 15 years to comply with the new outdoor space requirements. That is intended to give them time to finance and build the infrastructure that is supposed to be more to the liking of the affected farm animals.

Consumers, according to SWI, already think that by purchasing organic meat and poultry products, animal welfare is already covered. Their polling shows that 80 percent of organic consumers say animal welfare is important to their decision to purchase organic products. And 85 percent want the federal government to establish clear uniform standards for animals raised under the organic label.

And consumers favor a 3-year phase-in period, not 15 years.

Here is how to plug into the comment process while time remains:

Oral Comments: Oral comment registration is closed. The deadline to register for an oral comment slot is 11:59 p.m. EDT on Nov. 10. The deadline has been extended 30 days from the initial date of Oct. 11. This extension was made to ensure that all stakeholders and individuals have adequate time to formulate their comments and suggestions about the proposed rule.

Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting written comments. The deadline to submit written comments is 11:59 p.m. EDT, Nov. 10. The deadline has been extended 30 days from the initial date of Oct. 11. This extension was made to ensure that all stakeholders and individuals have adequate time to formulate their comments and suggestions about the proposed rule.

Mail: AMS strongly prefers comments be submitted electronically. However, written comments may be submitted (i.e., postmarked) via mail to Erin Healy, MPH., Director Standards Division, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-NOP, Room 2646-So., Ag Stop 0268, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20250-0268. Mailed comments must be postmarked by Nov. 10.

For access to the docket, including background documents and comments received, go to https://www.regulations.gov (search for docket “AMS-NOP-21-0073”). Comments submitted in response to this proposed rule will also be available for viewing in person at USDA-AMS, National Organic Program, Room 2646-South Building, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday (except official federal holidays). Persons wanting to visit the USDA South Building to view comments received in response to this proposed rule are requested to make an appointment in advance by calling 202-720-3252.

Contact: Erin Healy, MPH, Director of Standards Division, Telephone: (202) 720-3252; Email: erin.healy@usda.gov.

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