The US-based National Chicken Council (NCC) has warned the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that its plan to introduce new organic production standards presents “grave risks” to animal health and undermines ongoing efforts to develop global poultry welfare standards.
The NCC warning is contained in a 10-page letter to the USDA, prompted by the publication in April this year of the department’s proposed National Organic Programme (NOP).
Having studied the contents of NOP, the council has now objected to “several” key aspects of the plan (or rule, as it is described by the USDA), including serious concerns about how organic production units should deal with an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).
The NCC stated, in fact, that it views the plan as being in direct opposition to the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recommendations for biosecurity.
“In light of the recent (2015), devastating outbreak of HPAI, it is vital farmers retain the ability to make timely preventive measures to protect their flocks,” said the NCC. “Under the proposed rule, however, 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.”
The NCC letter, signed by the council’s senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, Dr Ashley Peterson, also stated that the proposed rule 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,” said the NCC, adding that the likelihood and magnitude of an outbreak is materially increased through the proposed outdoor access requirements contained in the proposed rule.
“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 (£2.5bn), far overshadowing the anticipated maximum benefit of $62.6 million (£46.9m) per year in the proposed rule.”
In addition, on the issue of the rule’s impact on the development of global welfare standards, the NCC stated that it is concerned that establishing new animal welfare expectations, through the guise of organic production standards, risks moving the US out of alignment with the poultry welfare framework currently being developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).