[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 90 (Tuesday, May 10, 2011)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 26927-26930]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-11013]



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Rules and Regulations
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Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 90 / Tuesday, May 10, 2011 / Rules 
and Regulations

[[Page 26927]]



DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Agricultural Marketing Service

7 CFR Part 205

[Document Number AMS-NOP-11-0030; NOP-11-07]


National Organic Program; Notice on the Ruminant Slaughter Stock 
Provision of the Access to Pasture Rule

AGENCY: Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION: Final rule; discussion of comments.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: This document informs the general public that no further 
action will be taken by the National Organic Program (NOP) to amend the 
provision on ruminant slaughter stock under the NOP regulations. This 
document provides a summary of the comments received in response to a 
request for comments on the ruminant slaughter stock requirements as 
codified by the final rule on access to pasture published on February 
17, 2010. Based upon the comments received, the rationale behind the 
decision to retain the section on livestock living conditions for 
ruminant slaughter stock as codified under the NOP regulations is 
discussed.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Melissa Bailey, PhD, Director, 
Standards Division, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-NOP, 1400 
Independence Ave., SW., Room 2646-So., Ag Stop 0268, Washington, DC 
20250-0268; telephone: (202) 720-3252; facsimile (202) 205-7808; or 
electronic mail: Melissa.Bailey@usda.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The NOP is authorized by the Organic Foods 
Production Act (OFPA) of 1990, as amended (7 U.S.C. 6501-6522). The 
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) administers the NOP. Under the 
NOP, the AMS oversees national standards for the production, handling, 
and labeling of organically produced agricultural products. Final 
regulations implementing the National Organic Program (NOP) were 
published December 21, 2000 (65 FR 80548), and became effective on 
October 21, 2002.
    On February 17, 2010, the NOP published a final rule on the access 
to pasture requirements for livestock (75 FR 7154). This rule 
established certain conditions that operations raising ruminant 
slaughter stock (also called ``finish feeding'' operations) must meet 
under Sec.  205.239(d) of the NOP regulations. During the finishing 
period, ruminant slaughter stock are exempt from the minimum 30 percent 
Dry Matter Intake (DMI) requirement from grazing that other ruminants 
must meet under the livestock feed requirements at Sec.  205.237 of the 
NOP regulations. However, producers must maintain slaughter stock on 
pasture for each day that their finishing period overlaps with the 
grazing season for the operation's geographical location. Another 
condition is that the finishing period is limited to one-fifth (\1/5\) 
of the animal's total life or 120 days, whichever is shorter.
    Although the access to pasture rule was issued as a final rule, the 
NOP invited public comments on the ruminant slaughter stock provision 
at Sec.  205.239(d) of the NOP regulations. As discussed in the 
preamble of the final rule (75 FR 7176), the NOP determined that it 
would be prudent to accept comment on this provision because the 
proposed rule for access to pasture (73 FR 63584) did not include an 
exception for ruminant slaughter stock from the new livestock feed and 
living condition requirements and, thus, could benefit from additional 
public comment. In the final rule, the NOP requested comments on three 
issues related to the ruminant slaughter stock provision: (1) 
Infrastructural hurdles and regional differences that should be 
considered, (2) the length of the finishing period, and (3) the use of 
feedlots for finishing organic slaughter stock. The 60-day comment 
period closed on April 19, 2010.
    The NOP received over 500 individual and 14,000 form letter public 
comments in response to the request for comments on ruminant slaughter 
stock. The NOP opted to supplement the analysis of the comments 
received with two site visits of organic finish feeding operations in 
December 2010. The comments received addressed all three issues for 
which we had requested feedback as well as some additional issues (e.g. 
labeling) for which we had not specifically solicited comments. We 
received comments from organic beef producers, state government 
agencies, animal welfare organizations, consumer organizations, 
certifying agents, retailers, and a trade association.
    Based upon the comments received, the NOP does not believe that 
action is warranted to amend the provision on ruminant slaughter stock 
at Sec.  205.239(d) of the NOP regulations. We are issuing this 
document to inform certified operations, certifying agents, and the 
general public that further rulemaking will not be pursued by the NOP 
at this time. Furthermore, we are issuing this document to provide a 
discussion of the comments received and the rationale behind our 
decision to retain Sec.  205.239(d) as codified by the access to 
pasture final rule published on February 17, 2010. The NOP would like 
to reiterate that operations certified as of February 17, 2010 (the 
publication date of the rule) need to be in full compliance with the 
rule, including the provision on ruminant slaughter stock at Sec.  
205.239(d) of the NOP regulations, by June 17, 2011. New organic 
livestock operations must be in full compliance with the rule now.

Discussion of Comments Received on Infrastructural Challenges

    One infrastructural consideration cited in many comments submitted 
by organic beef producers was their concern over the feasibility of 
maintaining slaughter stock on pasture without degradation to the 
environment. Their environmental concerns fell into two areas: (1) The 
potential disruption to proper nutrient cycling, and (2) soil and water 
contamination. With regard to nutrient cycling, many comments suggested 
that if slaughter stock is allowed access to pasture, then their 
operations would be unable to collect the manure for application to 
crops, thus, adversely impacting the nutrient cycling on their farms. 
These commenters asserted that valuable nutrients would be left on 
pasture, instead of captured and used on cropland, and that this would 
require

[[Page 26928]]

them to purchase off-farm organic fertilizers for their crops. One 
commenter further explained that their operation had worked with the 
Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to invest in a settling 
basin for the collection of runoff from the finish feeding yard such 
that it could be used to fertilize their organic crops. They suggested 
that requiring them to maintain slaughter stock on pasture would 
eliminate the benefit of that investment.
    In consideration of these comments on nutrient cycling, we 
ascertained how the requirement to maintain slaughter stock on pasture 
would impact the ability of beef producers to promote nutrient cycling 
on their farms. We believe that maintaining slaughter stock on pasture 
will not necessarily be an impediment to proper nutrient cycling. For 
the period of time that the finishing period corresponds with the 
grazing season and, thus, when slaughter stock will need to be 
maintained on pasture, nutrients from manure would be fertilizing the 
pasture areas instead of captured for use on cropland. While some 
producers might prefer to capture and use these nutrients on cropland 
as an alternative to purchasing organic fertilizers, the application of 
manure nutrients on pasture does not equate to environmental 
degradation as long as the pasture is appropriately managed as part of 
an operation's organic system.
    We also believe that the provision does not preclude the collection 
of manure during the non-grazing season and that most producers who 
have infrastructure to capture runoff will continue to benefit from 
this infrastructure. With the new provisions at Sec.  205.239(d), the 
period of time during which producers would collect manure from their 
feeding area would only decrease by the number of days that the 
finishing period corresponds to the grazing season (i.e. the days when 
the animals must be maintained on pasture). During the non-grazing 
season, producers will still be able to collect the majority of the 
manure from feed areas as they collect now and can continue to apply 
the manure they collect to their cropland.
    With regard to soil and water contamination, some commenters 
expressed concern over the compaction and runoff issues that could 
arise by allowing slaughter stock access to pasture areas near their 
feed yards, especially after inclement weather, or because of the long 
distances animals would need to travel to reach pasture areas. These 
comments cited concern over erosion of animal lanes or walkways and 
suggested that allowing the use of lanes or walkways might conflict 
with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) plans for 
nutrient and soil management of paddocks. We acknowledge that there can 
be farm specific conditions (e.g. areas that receive heavy rainfall) 
under which providing access to pasture areas would present a risk to 
soil and water quality. However, producers already have the option of 
including a description in their Organic System Plan (OSP) of 
conditions under which they anticipate confining livestock in a yard or 
feeding pad due to a risk to soil and water quality per Sec.  
205.239(b)(4) of the NOP regulations. Therefore, we do not agree that a 
change is warranted to remove the ``maintain on pasture'' language in 
the slaughter stock provision at Sec.  205.239(d) since producers 
already have a mechanism through the NOP to address instances during 
which soil or water quality may be put at risk by allowing animals on 
pasture. In addition, if producers need to use lanes or walkways 
because of their farm layout, then these should be managed accordingly 
to prevent erosion. We encourage producers to engage NRCS in discussion 
about how their management approach might need modification so they can 
maintain slaughter stock on pasture during the period required by the 
NOP regulations.
    Another infrastructural issue raised by producers is that existing 
feeding yards and areas have not been constructed near pasture areas, 
making it difficult and cost prohibitive to provide a pasture area to 
slaughter stock. A few commenters also suggested that putting feed 
bunks or feeding grains in the pasture would be expensive and could 
damage pasture by encouraging overuse of the areas that had feed bunks. 
Additional comments propose that this would also present a challenge 
with fencing to keep the slaughter stock separate from other groups on 
pasture (e.g., a bull with cows); one commenter pointed out this would 
be especially difficult if multiple age groups needed to be managed 
separately.
    As a point of clarification, the provision does not require 
producers to provide feed rations to slaughter stock on the pasture. 
The provision at Sec.  205.239(d) states that ``yards, feeding pads, or 
feedlots may (emphasis added) be used to provide finish feeding 
rations'' during the period when slaughter stock must be maintained on 
pasture. For example, a producer with a yard or feeding pad located 
near a pasture area might choose to install a lane from the yard to the 
pasture so animals can use the pasture during the day while retaining 
access to their feed ration provided at the yard or feeding pad. For 
those with different configurations, we recognize that they will need 
to make adjustments to make the infrastructure compatible with the 
requirement to maintain animals on pasture for certain periods. 
However, we believe that the requirement to maintain slaughter stock on 
pasture for these periods is consistent with what has always been a 
requirement of the NOP regulations: Providing ruminants with access to 
pasture. We received some comments that, in the absence of regulatory 
action by the NOP, producers have guided their management practices 
using the 2001 and 2005 National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) 
recommendations which do not specify a requirement to maintain 
slaughter stock on pasture during the finishing period. It is critical 
to remember that NOSB recommendations are not codified and, therefore, 
are not legally binding. Prior to the access to pasture final rule, the 
NOP regulations did not have an allowance for the finishing of 
slaughter stock and, therefore, not providing access to pasture during 
the finishing period was a violation of the NOP regulations.

Discussion of Comments Received on the Length of the Finishing Period

    The majority of comments received voiced support for a finishing 
period during which slaughter stock would have access to pasture. 
Several comments received from producers suggested changing the length 
of the finishing period from a 120-day, or one-fifth of life, 
(whichever is shorter) maximum, to either a 140-day or 160-day maximum. 
Their rationale was that the additional time on feed would enable them 
to obtain choice grade beef. One commenter further explained that the 
120-day maximum may not be adequate if the nutritional quality of grain 
were to decrease in a particular year because of crop conditions. 
Commenters expressed that this issue of grading choice could be further 
exacerbated by the fact that slaughter stock must be maintained on 
pasture during the finishing period. Since slaughter stock on pasture 
will graze during the finishing period and, thus, may consume less 
grain, commenters explained that there may be a lower rate of gain and 
lower carcass grade attained in the final product. There was also 
uncertainty among commenters about whether the ``one-fifth of life'' 
condition in the rule would be sufficient for optimizing carcass 
quality for bovines that reach slaughter weight earlier than 20 months 
of age. However, some producers agreed that, on average, a

[[Page 26929]]

120-day finishing period for bovines tends to be adequate and supported 
the rule as written. This position is further supported by both the 
comments received on the proposed rule for access to pasture and the 
NOSB recommendations from 2001 and 2005, which included a 120-day 
maximum finishing period as part of their recommendations.
    We believe that the record supports retaining the 120-day/one-fifth 
of life finishing period language as currently written at Sec.  
205.239(d). Many beef producers stated that they were currently 
complying with the 2001 NOSB recommendation and emphasized their 
support for this recommendation. The 2001 NOSB recommendation, which 
was supported by these comments, references a 120-day finishing period. 
Furthermore, the 2005 NOSB recommendation states that the Board 
received comments from beef producers who indicated that 120-days is 
the amount of time needed to achieve ``choice'' grades of beef. In 
addition, as discussed in the access to pasture final rule (75 FR 
7176), the 120-day period was also based upon the typical time frame 
for finishing beef cattle at 18-24 months of age. The one-fifth of life 
language was added to account for livestock who are slaughtered at a 
much younger age than is typical for beef animals. We believe it is 
important to retain the one-fifth of life as part of the provision, 
because, in its absence, there could be cases in which young animals 
would be denied access to pasture for the majority of their lives. This 
would not meet the intent of the access to pasture requirements for all 
ruminants.
    Among the animal welfare and environmental organizations who 
commented, several opposed any finishing period during which livestock 
are exempt from the 30% DMI from pasture. The comments particularly 
target the practice of grain finishing that is facilitated by the 
finish feeding exemption. Some of these comments requested a shorter 
finishing period if the 30% DMI from pasture exemption is retained. 
Other comments voiced conditional support for the 120-day finishing 
period dependent upon the retention and clarification of the 
requirement to maintain livestock on pasture during the finishing 
phase. Some comments received from animal welfare organizations 
suggested that the finishing period is too long, but did not explicitly 
state their reasoning for suggesting a shorter finishing period. A few 
comments, both stating their overall support for the ruminant slaughter 
stock provision, recommended that certifying agents be allowed to 
determine the length of the finishing period that is appropriate for 
regional conditions and species-specific differences.
    We believe that the new requirement at Sec.  205.239(d) as codified 
addresses many of these concerns while providing sufficient flexibility 
to organic livestock producers. It allows producers who feed grain to 
achieve a certain type of organic product to continue to do so while 
ensuring that ruminants are maintained on pasture for a period of time 
that meets the intent of the access to pasture rule, which is, in part, 
to accommodate the natural grazing behavior of ruminants. However, it 
would not be reasonable to require that 30% of the animal's DMI come 
from grazing during the finishing period because of the amount of grain 
and free choice hay that is typically consumed by slaughter stock, even 
when these animals are maintained on pasture. We also believe that 
setting a specific standard of 120 days or one-fifth of life, rather 
than allowing certifying agents to determine the finishing period, will 
ensure consistency across certifiers and a level playing field for all 
producers.

Discussion of Comments Received on the Use of Feedlots

    Many comments opposed the exemption of slaughter stock from the 30% 
DMI requirement during the finishing period and the allowance for 
providing feed rations in yards, feeding pads, or feedlots. One 
producer disagreed with allowing slaughter stock to be confined for any 
period of time and would prefer a provision that requires animals to be 
maintained on pasture their entire lives, not just the period of time 
when finishing overlaps with the grazing season. Comments received from 
animal welfare advocacy groups also emphasized that exempting slaughter 
stock from being on pasture at all times is unnecessary because they 
believe that the majority of organic producers do not confine their 
beef to feedlots at any time. These comments further asserted that 
allowing the finishing of animals in feed yards is contrary to the 
requirement under the NOP regulations to accommodate the natural 
behaviors of the animals. A few comments detailed some of the animal 
health and welfare drawbacks to grain feeding ruminants in feeding 
areas and advocated for a complete ban on providing finish rations in 
feed yards, feeding pads or feedlots. One comment suggested that the 
entire exemption for ruminant slaughter stock be deleted, arguing that 
finish feeding operations should have to meet consumer expectations by 
following all of the access to pasture requirements of the NOP 
regulations.
    While we recognize the concerns raised by commenters about 
confinement and animal health and welfare issues associated with 
feedlots, yards, and feeding areas, we believe that these concerns are 
already addressed throughout the NOP regulations and do not require an 
amendment to the finish feeding provisions. For example, under Sec.  
205.239(a) of the NOP regulations, producers are already required to 
maintain year-round livestock living conditions which accommodate the 
health and natural behavior of animals, except when temporary 
confinement is deemed necessary according to Sec.  205.239(b) and (c). 
The health and welfare of slaughter stock is also addressed by ensuring 
that yards, feeding pads, and feedlots are large enough to allow all 
ruminants occupying the area to feed simultaneously without crowding 
and without competition for food (Sec.  205.239(d)). Total confinement 
of ruminants in yards, feeding pads, and feedlots is prohibited per 
Sec.  205.239(a)(1). Furthermore, producers are already required to 
manage their livestock feed to ensure the health of their animals in 
accordance with Sec.  205.237 and Sec.  205.238(a)(2). We also believe 
that the requirement at Sec.  205.239(d) to maintain slaughter stock on 
pasture when the finishing period overlaps with the grazing season 
ensures that animals will have an opportunity to graze when forage is 
available.

Discussion of Comments Received on Labeling and Grass-Fed Products

    Many commenters suggested that there is a place for both grass 
finished and grain finished beef in the organic market. One commenter 
put forth a proposal for a 3-tier labeling system: ``Organic--Grass 
Fed/Grain Finished,'' ``Organic--Grass Fed/Finished on Pasture with 
Supplemental Grain Feeding,'' ``Organic--100% Grass Fed/Grass 
Finished.'' Their recommendation suggested that the ``Organic--100% 
Grass-fed/Grass Finished'' label be a hybrid of the organic standards 
and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Quality Systems 
Verification Program standards for ``USDA grass-fed.'' The comments 
supporting this approach suggested that this labeling scheme would 
accommodate the diversity of current practices in organic meat 
production and the diversity in consumer preference by enabling 
consumers to differentiate among the types of finishing practices.

[[Page 26930]]

    Some commenters did not recommend that NOP adopt a new labeling 
scheme, but instead advised that the organic regulations require grass-
fed claims on organic meat products to adhere to the AMS grass-fed 
standard. Furthermore, these commenters requested that the NOP 
facilitate a means to obtain organic certification and grass-fed 
verification simultaneously via the certifying agent of the certified 
operation. Other commenters advised that grass-fed label claims are not 
and should not be within the purview of NOP. Each producer, they 
stated, can elect to pursue claims, such as grass-fed, in addition to 
and separate from organic certification.
    We do not believe it is practical for the NOP to undertake the 
labeling scheme recommended by some commenters. The existing NOP 
regulations do not preclude producers from consulting with the USDA 
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) about the possibility of 
modeling their labels upon the scheme described by the commenters. It 
is important to note that organic producers may request verification 
for a ``Grass Fed'' label claim through the AMS grass-fed process 
verified standard at any time. In addition, the NOP identified what 
would be required for certifying agents who certify organic to offer 
``Grass Fed'' verification under their accreditation scope. The 
certifying agent would need to be approved under the ISO Guide 65 
program for organics, request an expansion of their accreditation to 
include ``Grass Fed'' through AMS Audit, Review, and Compliance (ARC) 
Services, and engage in a review of the process at their next onsite 
audit with ARC. We encourage certifiers to contact the NOP for 
additional information if they are interested in pursuing this option.

    Dated: April 28, 2011.
Rayne Pegg,
Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.
[FR Doc. 2011-11013 Filed 5-9-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-02-P