[Following up on last month's article - A Natural Opportunity for Venison - this article identifies some of the standards that deer/elk farmers must meet in order to sell their venison products as certified organic. This information is taken from the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) Standards Manual (2002) that can be downloaded from the OCIA web site at http://www.ocia.org ]
Origin of livestock
Livestock products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be from livestock under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation.
Livestock used as breeder stock may be brought from a non-organic operation onto an organic operation at any time: provided that, if such livestock are gestating and the offspring are to be raised as organic livestock, the breeder stock must be brought onto the facility no later than the last third of gestation.
The following are prohibited:
1. Livestock or edible livestock products that are removed from an organic operation and subsequently managed on a non-organic operation may not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced.
2. Breeder or dairy stock that has not been under continuous organic management since the last third of gestation may not be sold, labeled, or represented as organic slaughter stock.
3. Embryo transfer techniques and the use of hormonal reproductive treatments are not allowed. (International requirement).
The producer of an organic livestock operation must maintain records sufficient to preserve the identity of all organically managed animals and edible and non-edible animal products produced on the operation.
The producer of an organic livestock operation must provide livestock with total feed ration composed of agricultural products, including pasture and forage, that are organically produced, and if applicable, organically handled; except those non-synthetic substances and synthetic substances that are specifically permitted (see page 40 of OCIA manual) to be used as feed additives and supplements.
The producer of an organic operation must not:
1. Use animal drugs, including hormones to promote growth.
2. Provide feed supplements or additives in amounts above those needed for adequate nutrition and health maintenance for the species at its specific stage of life.
3. Feed plastic pellets for roughage.
4. Feed formulas containing urea or manure.
5. Feed mammalian or poultry slaughter by-products to mammals.
6. Use feed, feed additives and feed supplements in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Slaughter animals must be fed 100% organically grown feed including pasture. Buffer zone requirements may be waived by the certification committee if an affidavit or non-use of prohibited materials can be obtained from neighboring landowners.
Pasture management must ensure that stocking rates do not exceed the maximum carrying capacity of the land in the region, taking into account the forage production capacity, stock health, and environmental impact.
Overgrazing leading to the degradation of the land may result in non-certification.
Here are a few additional international requirements:
1. Calves, lambs, piglets and kids shall suckle for at least the full colostrums period.
2. Early weaning or feeding milk replacer are prohibited.
3. Youngstock from mammals shall be raised using systems that rely on organic milk, preferably from their own species. In emergencies, the certification bodies may allow the use of milk from non-organic farming systems or dairy based milk substitutes so long as they do not contain antibiotics or synthetic additives.
[Does this means that bottle-raised fawns and elk calves do not qualify as organic under these rules - Ed.?]
Health care practices
The producer must establish and maintain preventive livestock health care practices, including:
1. Selection of species and types of livestock with regard to suitability for site-specific conditions and resistance to prevalent diseases and parasites.
2. Provision of a feed ration sufficient to meet nutritional requirements, including vitamins, minerals, protein and/or amino acids, fatty acids, energy sources, and fiber (ruminants).
3. Establishment of appropriate housing, pasture conditions, and sanitation practices to minimize the occurrence and spread of diseases and parasites.
4. Provision of conditions that allow for exercise, freedom of movement and reduction of stress appropriate to the species.
5. Performance of physical alterations as needed to promote the animal's welfare and in a manner that minimizes pain and stress (e.g., dehorning).
6. Administration of vaccines and other veterinary biologics. Vaccinations (including vaccination to stimulate production of maternal antibodies), probiotics, and similar preventive techniques are permitted when diseases are known to exist in the farm environment and cannot be controlled by other techniques. Legally required vaccinations are allowed.
7. When preventive practices and veterinary biologics are inadequate to prevent sickness, a producer may administer approved synthetic medications.
The producer of an organic livestock operation must not:
1. Sell, label or represent as organic any animal or edible product derived from any animal treated with antibiotics, any substance that contains a non-allowed synthetic substance or a prohibited non-synthetic substance.
2. Administer any animal drug, other than vaccinations, in the absence of illness.
3. Administer hormones for growth promotion.
4. Administer synthetic parasiticides on a routine basis.
5. Administer synthetic parasiticides to slaughter stock.
6. Withhold medical treatment from a sick animal in an effort to preserve its organic nature. All appropriate medications must be used to restore an animal to health when methods acceptable to organic production fail. However livestock treated with prohibited substances must be clearly identified and shall not be sold, labeled or represented as organically produced.
[Of interest to elk producers is that the use of Lidocaine is permitted. However, use requires a withdrawal period of 90 days after administering to livestock intended for slaughter.]
Livestock living conditions
The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behaviour of animals including:
1. Access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate, and the environment.
2. Access to pasture for ruminants.
3. Appropriate clean, dry bedding. If the bedding is typically consumed by the animal species, it must comply with organic feed requirements.
4. Shelter designed to allow for: a) natural maintenance, comfort behaviors, and opportunity to exercise; b) temperature level, ventilation and air circulation suitable to the species; and, c) reduction of potential for livestock injury.
The producer of an organic livestock operation may provide temporary confinement for an animal because of:
1. Inclement weather.
2. The animal's stage of production.
3. Conditions under which the health, safety, or well being of the animal could be jeopardized.
4. Risk to soil or water quality.
The producer of an organic livestock operation must manage manure in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil or water by plant nutrients, heavy metals, or pathogenic organisms and optimizes recycling of nutrients.
Here are the international requirements regarding transportation of animals:
1. Throughout the different steps of the process, there shall be a person responsible for the well being of the animal.
2. Animals presented for transportation must be in a condition that enables them to endure the stress of travel.
3. Animals must be clearly identifiable.
4. Animals must be treated humanely during loading, unloading, shipping, holding and slaughter. (The handling during transport and slaughter shall be calm and gentle. The use of electric sticks and such instruments is prohibited).
5. The mode of transportation must be: a) clean and free of protrusions that could cause bruising and/or injury, and b) provide adequate ventilation and comfortable head space so the animal is able to stand in a natural position.
6. When transport is by axle, the journey time to the slaughterhouse shall not exceed sixteen (16) hours. If the trip takes longer, the livestock must be fed and watered according to their needs.
7. Administering tranquilizers or stimulants during loading, transport, or unloading is prohibited.
Here are the requirements regarding slaughter:
1. Slaughter facilities must be inspected and certified or recognized certified organic.
2. The number of animals per holding pen shall be limited allowing plenty of space or each animal to move about.
3. Holding pens may have slatted floors only if there is a bedded surface with space for all stock to lie down.
4. Slaughter must be effected under sanitary conditions which shall usually mean government approved slaughterhouses.
5. Slaughter shall normally take place the same day that the animals arrive.
6. The following methods of slaughtering and handling are permitted. Animals must be rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or by an electrical means that is rapid and effective. Killing of slaughter stock on pasture will be subject to all applicable laws.
7. Shackling, hoisting or slaughtering prior to having rendered the animal unconscious is prohibited.
8. Before and after slaughter, organic carcasses and meat products must be clearly identified in such a manner as to preclude confusion with non-certified meat. The animals must be slaughtered as a separate lot and certified meat hung apart.
9. Carcass marking agents must be approved for use by the local government regulatory agency and meet the requirements of these standards.
10. Meat products must be clearly identifiable back to the primary producer and through to point of sale. Care must be taken to keep certified products isolated from all possible contamination and prohibited materials during transit and point of sale.
From my perspective, deer and elk farmers already meet most of these requirements. The key challenges are in the areas of ensuring the feed meets organic requirements, and having available an organically certified slaughter house.
The other observation is that our industry treats their animals in a more humane and natural way than do many other livestock industries. We need to get this message out more to blunt the criticisms from the game farming opponents.