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Proposed OLPP Standards

The end of organic poultry porches? Don't hold your breath.

The current proposed organic livestock & poultry practices rule demonstrates the power of chemical agriculture over the organic sector. Read on below for Linley's take on the standards' past and challenges for the future of Real Organic:

Alexandre Farms tractor pulling a wooden hen house across pasture with a large amount of chickens on green pasture behind it.
Pictured here: Alexandre Farms children rotating their pastured poultry. Rotating chickens on pasture prevents nitrate contamination of soil and groundwater, provides a varied diet for the birds including grass and insects, and makes for more nutritious meat and eggs.
If the Organic standards required vegetated cover for poultry production, this would open markets for operations that rotate their chickens on pasture AND feed organic grain, a rare combination.

Dear Friend,

As much as I like to write about all the good work we do, today is a day to make sure we stay informed.

The Real Organic Project exists because the USDA has failed us. While we haven’t walked away from the important work of USDA reform, we aren't willing to bet our future on that effort.

This month, we are called once again, to comment on another “proposed rule” that attempts to correct the abysmal state of organic poultry. This is a perfect example of why we need “another lane” for farmers who follow the law.

As we all know, for decades now, the USDA has allowed the certification of confinement poultry production. They do so under the premise that small concrete-floored “porches” (attached to mega-confinement facilities) qualify as “outdoor access”. Unfortunately, things don’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

aerial view of egg CAFO
Is this what organic means to you? Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow (Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee) has lobbied against legislation that would kick Herbruck's Poultry Ranch, certified by QAI, out of the organic label because their two story industrial barns don't provide real “outdoor access.” Herbruck's markets under the brands Eggland's Best, Green Meadow, and many “private label” brands they do not disclose.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Standard Details

To be clear, the current law requires “living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals” AND “year-round access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight.”

The law clearly prohibits confinement, so why do we need a new rule?

Because the USDA has taken the position that “the outdoors” does not mean…well…the outdoors. Only a lawyer could love this twisted debate!

Another important detail:

  • There is NO ONE who supports the certification of these chicken CAFOs
  • Except for the people who own the chicken CAFOs and the politicians they lobby.
  • Even the Organic Trade Association is suing the National Organic Program over this one.

The ups and downs of the OLPP

I'll tell you what I'd like to see. I'd like to see the state and federal governments set aside enough state and federal land in each county to feed that county. They should have ways to encourage and support farmers who could raise some of that food on those lands. We need to think about some new ideas on this.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks at an event while looking at the camera
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

A quick history lesson:

In the last weeks of the Obama presidency in 2016, the USDA, led by Tom Vilsack, finally passed an Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Final Rule.

This was after decades of pressure by the organic community.

Two weeks later that rule was pulled by the Trump administration.

Four years later, Tom Vilsack is once again the Secretary of Agriculture. Instead of immediately reinstating the 2016 Final Rule after re-entering the office, two years later we have been offered a different “proposed rule” now available for public comment.

The different rule is renamed the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) Proposed Rule. This long-awaited proposal turns out to be an even weaker attempt to close the “porch loophole.”

Click here to read about the 2002 lawsuit that set the precedent for allowing chicken porches to substitute for “outdoor access.”

 

The new OLPP and Poultry Porches Grandfathering

The new OLPP has no minimum requirements for the outdoor area to be vegetated and allows for half of the outdoor space to be concrete (something that often prevents the birds from going outdoors in the first place). It also removes language from the 2016 Final Rule that required enough natural light to penetrate the buildings so that “inspectors can read and write when the lights are off.”

But most importantly, it has a MAJOR caveat…

The new OLPS proposes “grandfathering” in the current CAFO poultry “porches” for up to 15 years! 

Which is to say, forever.

Eggs from chickens confined in these industrial warehouses already make up over 75% of the current organic market. Besides breaking the current law, these operations have also benefitted from the NOP’s recurring issues of massive fraudulent “organic” grain (both domestic and imported).

Allowing porches has essentially mandated porches under the organic seal.

It is cheaper to convert a conventional CAFO to a “certified organic” CAFO, than it is to actually produce chickens organically. As a result, real organic poultry operations have largely gone out of business or left the organic label for “pastured” or “non-GMO” labeling, both rife with their own greenwashing issues.

Chickens walk on pasture with tall grass and a feed mill behind them at sunset.
Or is THIS what organic means to you? Real Organic Project requires real pasture, defined as a minimum of 50% vegetated cover, as pictured here at Coyote Creek Farm.

Conventional farming's influence in organic production

The current proposed rule demonstrates the power of chemical agriculture over the organic sector. Not only is the proposed rule weak, but we still find conventional companies, that have no stake in organic production, lobbying against the rule. In 2016, even the Iowa Pork Producers Association opposed the OLPP Final Rule.

Why would the conventional industry care what happens in organic?

Because it sets a precedent that animal welfare matters.

What is an organic eater to do?

The USDA has opened a public comment period until Oct. 11 here. You can submit your comments requesting changes to the proposed rule, especially that there should be NO implementation period for operations with “porches” (never mind 15 years!!). The organic community has waited long enough!

The organic industry must begin to recover its lost integrity. In the meantime (perhaps indefinitely), to support real organic egg producers and our work, go here to donate any amount – even $1 helps.

Yours in the dirt,

Linley

P.S. Don't forget to join us for our next Real Friends bookclub with Blue Hill chef Dan Barber on Monday, October 3rd.

A satellite image of a large Texas egg farm holding thousands of chickens indoors.
Idalou Egg Ranch in Texas is certified organic by CCOF, without providing hens real outdoor access.

Based on this video of Idalou Egg Ranch, certified by CCOF in Texas, it would seem they would still qualify for organic certification even if the OLPS is passed. Placing CAFOs in the desert to “feed the world” drains aquifers and contaminates soil. These industrial operations can still have access to conventional markets, but shouldn't qualify for the higher standard of organic.

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