USDA Proposes New Rules for ‘Organic’ Standards – Fortifying Protections for Farm Animals

By on April 7, 2016 with 5 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The legal definition of “organic” didn’t translate into much in the way of practical protections for animals on the farm when it was adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2000.  But today the Obama Administration has proposed a revamped definition for the “organic” label that promises a dramatic upgrade in protections, embracing higher animal welfare standards that The HSUS has long advocated. In fact, we attended many public hearings on the topic and submitted comments time and again.

The rule covers a whole array of housing, husbandry, and management topics, including the prohibition of certain painful practices, like tail docking of pigs and cattle and debeaking of birds. A new section covering animal handling and transport to slaughter is also proposed for addition. Importantly, the rule sets minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for egg-laying chickens, and requires that producers provide a sufficient number of exits and outdoor enrichment to entice birds to go outside on a daily basis. It also specifies that covered porches and similar structures do not qualify as outdoor space. While existing organic poultry operations have five years to come into compliance with outdoor access requirements for birds, the minimums for indoor space and all other welfare standards in the proposed rule will come into effect one year after  the rule becomes final.

The Obama Administration’s move today demonstrates the changing social consensus on animals among consumers who are increasingly concerned about farm animal welfare. A 2015 Consumer Reports survey found that over 70 percent of Americans believe there should be meaningful minimum-size living space requirements for farm animals raised under the organic label, and that the animals should have access to the outdoors, yet the current regulations do not guarantee these basic protections for organically raised animals.

You’d have to look no further than this week’s game-changing announcement that mega-retailer Walmart intends to source all of its eggs from cage-free hens to realize that we’re experiencing a pivotal  moment of change for animals in America’s food system. Consumers are more alert than ever to the problems of extreme confinement, and we’ve worked with more than 120 major companies to set a date for going 100 percent cage-free.

This is a key trend that I address in my forthcoming book, The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers are Transforming the Lives of Animals. The Humane Economy explores the idea that when consumers are attuned to the needs of animals, it’s a huge risk factor for any company to ignore that widely-held sensibility.

The proposed rule will now enter a 60-day public comment period, offering farmers, consumers, organizations, and others a chance to comment on what the organic label should mean. It is extremely important that you weigh in with your support for humane standards for animals.

Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Sally Palmer says:

    This is really more of a question on strategics than a comment, so it’s not really something to publish, but how many people do you think each state needs to get to weigh in for support to show that a majority of Americans want more humane farming practices? I will spend the next 60 days letting people know they have this great opportunity to help create a page-turning change in farming that will benefit every being in the long run, including those who may not think so right now, but I think it would help to have a number for each state’s HSUS members to rally round and achieve. Of course, we’ll all give friends and relatives in other states the exciting chance–and it is exciting–to be a part of this, but we need a target number to keep us focused. Or will enough HSUS members and others be thrilled with this progress to do this on their own and don’t need anything but the word go? I am new to all of this, so I may just need to calm down and get my own comment in, but I would like to see us hit a record number in public comment history. Clearly this isn’t about choosing sides and winning, this is about those great times in history when a vital truth is finally realized and acknowledged publicly. Still, the recognition of truth today is more often than not hinged on data so breaking a numbers record would naturally complete the accomplishment. At any rate, thank you and all the others for working so hard and long to make this time for truth and change possible.

  2. Cynthia Samels says:

    These new rules are absolutely needed and, in time, will hopefully cover all animals. Meat and dairy consumers are becoming more and more aware and angered by the lack of protections for farm animals. “Organic” and other terms have been used and abused to alleviate consumer fears of contributing to animal cruelty and abuse. This is a great and needed beginning.

  3. Cynthia Longo says:

    I applaud the Obama Administration’s efforts to modernize and improve animal welfare standards. In this country, inhumane, industrialized practices have become the norm, and we are so far removed from true agriculture and animal husbandry. More and more consumers are paying very close attention to their food sources and do not want to support abusive practices just for a meal, nor do they want to be victimized by false assurances of organic and humane practices. I believe the proposed rule changes are a huge step in the right direction toward minimizing the harm and suffering of farmed animals.

  4. Crystal Raines says:

    WOW! Praise God that changes are finally coming! Every living creature deserves a humane existence while it is alive. One remark, Walmart does NOT need 10 years to come into compliance! If suppliers say that, find another supplier and watch how fast 10 years becomes a few months! We al need to weigh in on this issue. The time is NOW to change laws to save animals from horrible abuse! It has been about money. It is time animal welfare comes first!

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