Nothing Organic or Natural About Effort in Congress to Block Organic Farm Animal Care Standards

By on May 16, 2016 with 4 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof wrote an extraordinary column on my new book, The Humane Economycelebrating the enormous range of progress we’ve made in driving reform for animals in so many different sectors of industry. The New York Times columnist noted, of course, that our work isn’t done, and that while the humane economy is a powerful force, there are plenty of people and industries who resist it.

One class of influential decision makers who resist us on animal protection, particularly on farm animal protection, are agriculture-oriented lawmakers in Congress. A substantial number of House and Senate members resisted the 2013 reforms we pushed with the egg industry to set new minimum standards for the treatment of laying hens.  (Fortunately, we ran the table with America’s major food retailers and now have enshrined in practice a de facto ban on future cage confinement of hens, as soon as these company policies take effect in the years ahead.)

The latest gambit from some members of Congress is to block the USDA from completing its proposed changes to the legal definition of “organic” – a set of changes from the executive agency that promises a dramatic upgrade in protections and embraces higher animal welfare standards that The HSUS has long advocated and that I wrote about with great enthusiasm a few weeks ago.

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 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 current regulations do not guarantee these basic protections for organically raised animals.

The USDA obviously saw the changes afoot in the food retail sector, with more than 175 major companies – from Walmart to McDonald’s to Kroger – announcing new policies in their supply chain to take animals into account. Unfortunately, agribusiness still has inordinate sway in Congress, and there’s an effort this week in the Senate Appropriations Committee to prohibit the USDA from making these new rules final. We must defeat this anti-consumer, anti-animal welfare maneuvering.

I’ve asked you to weigh in with the USDA and support their effort to upgrade protections for animals in the organic standards. Today, I want to ask you to contact your two U.S. Senators by calling 888-833-8392, and urge them to oppose any efforts by Congress to derail the USDA’s efforts to make animal-friendly changes to the legal definition of “organic.” Congress should be supporting, not subverting, the movement toward a humane economy.

Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Randy Janssen says:

    There is no evidence that organic is better for you or that GMO are bad for you. The fact is sustainable and organic food are the millennium equivalent of the pet rock. Great marketing, but about as useful.
    This is what the Secretary of Agriculture says about organic food labeling; “Let me be clear about one thing. The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality,”.
    People who complain about factory farms, are ignorant. Never in our history have so few fed so many as now. Never in our history have so many lived so long and been so healthy as now. Food in the US is plentiful and inexpensive. This is because of modern farming methods. It would be impossible to feed our urban society without modern farming methods. Subsistence farming is OK for people who want to live it, but most of us do not want to dig potatoes or clean up after a cows or pluck chickens. That is what we be reduced to if we abandon the progress we have made in food production.
    To try to blame global warming on cow farts and burps is silly. Fossil fuels are the culprits. The reports blaming animals, fail to balance the CO2 produced by animals with the CO2 used by plants that the animals eat. As far as methane gas, the best way to control that is by modern farming methods that controls what the animals eat. Please read this:

  2. Marcia Hale says:

    I just got an automated call from HSUS allowing me to connect directly with my senator’s office. While I appreciate this effort, this is less than effective. There was too much information on the call for me to assimilate so I sounded like someone who had something to say. I didn’t know enough about this proposed legislation to even know what I should say. I sounded like an idiot. It would have been perhaps MORE effective to direct me to this page on the website, ask me to read it, then direct me to take action through a call or email so I sounded a little more informed. The call didn’t give the bill number, I didn’t quite catch the title of the bill, and frankly I think my stammering support makes my call less than effective. Plus, I don’t want to get these calls, just send me an email asking me to support a cause. I respond to those.

  3. Renee says:

    I so appreciate the article and the work you do but I wish you would put what should be said when we make the call into plain words. I would make the call but have no idea what to say. “Please oppose any efforts by Congress to derail the USDA’s efforts to make animal-friendly changes to the legal definition of ‘organic'” is so confusing it doesn’t make sense.

  4. Lynne Sapienza says:

    I support the improvements forwarded for humane treatment of animals and poultry under the Organic label. I Oppose any congressional action to block this humane improvement from moving forward

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