Breaking news: Obama Administration sets sweeping new standard for farm animal welfare

By on January 18, 2017 with 44 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

In its final major action for animals – this one perhaps promising to improve the treatment for millions and millions of animals in the coming years — the Obama Administration today finalized a rule that clarifies and updates the requirements of the “organic” label, establishing clear and meaningful protections for farm animals raised under that label and embracing higher welfare standards that The HSUS has long advocated. The rule is a game-changer for the $40 billion organic market whose consumers often believe that organic farm animals are raised with strong animal welfare standards.

The new rule, issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, encompasses an array of housing, husbandry, and management standards, including the prohibition of certain cruel practices like tail docking of cattle; the transportation of sick, injured, or lame animals; or mulesing of sheep (cutting the skin from the back legs and rump). It clarifies the requirement that animals cannot be tightly confined, and sets minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for egg-laying chickens. The rule requires that producers provide a sufficient number of exits and design outdoor areas to promote and encourage birds to go outside on a daily basis.

A commitment to improving animal welfare has always been one of the central tenets of the organic program, but the lack of well-defined requirements has led to inconsistency in how the standards are applied. A 2010 audit of the organic program by the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General found, for example, that the absence of a regulatory provision defining “outdoor access” requirements for birds led to serious inconsistency among organic egg producers: many producers allow their birds to go outside, while some interpret the outdoor access requirement to be met merely with covered concrete porches. The agency realized that this disparity results in organic farmers who follow the spirit of the law being undercut, and threatens consumer confidence in the organic program.

A 2015 Consumer Reports survey found that a majority of consumers believe the organic label already requires meaningful outdoor access. The new rule will make the organic certifying standards consistent, more closely aligning these standards with consumer expectations on animal welfare. By clarifying the outdoor access requirement and laying out other key standards, including prohibiting certain painful practices and requiring that animals have enough space to stand up, lie down, and turn around, the USDA has ensured that consumers who buy organic are more likely to get what they pay for.

The rule is supported by the most prominent organic trade groups and producers, including the Organic Trade Association, National Organic Coalition, Organic Valley, and Egg Innovations. They’re joined by some large-scale non-organic producers, such as Perdue Farms, which have also endorsed the new rule.

The finalizing of the organics rule is a signature victory for farm animals – with more practical consequences for animals that may rival or exceed any of our pathbreaking ballot measures for farm animals, since the standards apply to farm animals raised and sold under this increasingly popular label in every state. And it comes at a time when there is a cascade of evidence of consumer and corporate clamoring for higher welfare standards for farm animals. In November, 78 percent of voters favored a ban on confining farm animals in cage or crates and stipulated that eggs, pork, and veal sold in the state must come from farms that honor that standards, regardless of where they’re located. Within the last two years, more than 200 major food-selling companies, including Walmart and McDonald’s, have set time frames for going 100 percent cage-free.

In recent weeks, more than a dozen of the world’s largest food service companies and other major food sellers have also committed to higher standards for chickens raised for their meat – indicating a strong start for a movement to provide better living conditions for broiler birds. The same trends we’re seeing in evidence in the United States are happening in other major parts of the world.

The diligent work of HSUS state and national Agriculture Advisory Council members was key in getting this rule passed. We are immensely grateful to the Obama Administration for making this matter a priority and completing such a tangible action before the President’s second term ends. The administration’s record on animal welfare is unmatched by any previous administration, and sets a high standard for its successors.

Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Lucy Muller says:

    Thank you HSUS and President Obama!!! I have prayed for something
    Ike this for 35 years. Now if only people can get meat made in th laboratory and non-milk

    • GIGI says:

      Is this just for food labeled organic? I hope not. No slaughtering animals and no milking and ripping their calves away. We have a long way to go…unfortunately.

  2. Holly Elmore says:

    *78% of voters in Massachusetts

    YAY Prop 3!

  3. Ellen Canavan says:

    This is wonderful news! Thank you and thank you President Obama.

  4. Takara Shelor says:

    What I want to know is why these rules are not mandatory for ALL farm animals … not just the ones labeled organic?

  5. Maureen says:

    This excellent news

  6. Jason says:

    Why would anyone make the assumption that Organic implies a greater level of care for the animals? I always figured that to keep chemicals out of the meat, milk or whatever, that the animals would be more restricted and probably be treated with less medications that would contaminate the food. I envisioned them as trapped and sickly. Just by common sense.

    • marsha says:

      Jason the antibiotics that are prohibited for animals are those that are routinely given to promote growth, not treat disease. These antibiotics are leading to superbugs that humans now get that are no longer responsive to antibiotics because of this overuse. Organic standards have always meant better animal welfare although there is a problem with enforcement and some producers not following the rules. So common sense failed you this time.

  7. peggy ashby says:

    This is very exciting to know. Thank you President for making this possible…

    • Rozanne Winter says:

      I agree completely. ..”organic farming” as far as I am concerned is an underhand way of charging a LOT more money for the animals Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Rabbits Chinchillas and the various birds….ie chickens, Ducks Geese etc they have….The “treatment” to these Animals is often barbaric and unnecessary…
      ant it’s all done under the label of being “Organic” so that they can charge top dollar for them. It’s the classic “need for greed”.

  8. Patty says:

    So great to hear this ! It is long overdue !
    It is enough that animals give their lives for people that eat meat to continue to do so but at the very least they should never ever be abused ! So thankful for the ever evolving of some to make a difference for these wonderful creatures that have no voice for themselves. Pray all will follow suit and continue to make their lives better !

    • Carol says:

      Animals do not “give their lives” for people to eat meat! People TAKE their lives. Wake up!

      Do you willingly “give” your tax dollars to the government? Of course not. The government makes rules enabling it to “lawfully” TAKE your money.

    • ABCD says:

      Minor correction: Animals don’t “give” their life for human. Himans “take” their lives. Human “torture” and “murder” them.

  9. Brenda A. Morris says:

    Amazing work, HSUS! If you own mutual funds, encourage your portfolio managers to join and make a public commitment to consider factory farming issues as part of their investment process. Here’s to a happy + humane New Year. xo

  10. Wade Huke says:

    I cant believe the FAIRY_ did one good thing before leaving office Barry certainle did his very best to ruin the USA.!

  11. Andrea Ferguson says:

    President Obama lit a bright light for animal welfare before the Darkness takes over on Friday. It may well be another 4 years before any laws are passed to protect our earth and the other living creatures we share it with. This is bittersweet.

  12. Phyllis Holt says:

    Now puppy mills MUST be shut down. They’re under the umbrella of USDA and the conditions for the dogs are horrific!!

  13. Gregory Karas says:

    It is time to shut down, ALL Factory farming, and cage farming, and gas striation crates,all live stock, should be range free, and there needs to be a limit,on breeding, and farming, and ranching,and put a limit on these buyers, and sellers,and lets get rid of all these predatory,slaughter house workers, all these live stock animals, should 100% be dead, be four any saw,or knife,ever touches there body,that is the humane way,and the Department of AGG, needs to regulate it,to make sure it is done that way,and get rid of all those livestock transporters,that do not care how these poor animals are treated,millions of Americans, are now and have been educated, how these animals have been treated,and wants it to end,all these farmers, and ranchers, and transporters, and breeders, and slaughter house owners, and workers,that dont or wont comply, we are many we will put you out of business,everyone that has a love for animals,will stop buying any of your products,we will stop the demand, NO DEMAND,NO SUPPLY, NO BUSINESS.

  14. Gloria Hackwith says:

    This is wonderful news. Thank you President Obama and all who care for animals being cared for right.

  15. Cristine Bullard says:

    Thank you!! After a day of posts about animal abuse and horrible zoo conditions, there is finally good news!

  16. margie anne says:

    Thank you President Obama!!

    Very happy to hear this news.

  17. Patty Millin says:

    Thank You Humane Society United States and President Obama ♡ Please let’s continue on, there is a long way to go on protecting farm animals, particularly the fear and suffering and pain they suffer from the torture and abuse on the way to slaughter and at end of life. Please Please let’s save these animals. Let’s make United States the leader in the Humaniy movement. We have left the age of Aquarius and entered The Age Of Humanity. Please let’s do this.

  18. VeganInVegas says:

    Great news! Long overdue.

    Can djt overturn it?

  19. madeline Bell says:

    Save the animals

  20. madeline Bell says:

    WE MUST SAVE THE ANIMALS SO dont test on animals and stop putting innocent dogs 2 sleep

  21. madeline Bell says:


  22. Kathy Dowell says:

    It is sad that laws have to be passed for people to treat animals humanely. Those that mistreat animals for profit will be counting their money in hell. Thank you HSUS for speaking up and taking action.

  23. Kathy Dowell says:

    It is a shame that laws have to be made to insure that animals are treated humanely. Those that make a living mistreating animals will be counting their money in hell. Thank you HSUS for speaking up and acting on abuse.

  24. Mae says:

    Probably another rule that girls UN enforced ?sad for the animals. But a step in the right direction

  25. Doris Muller says:

    Sorry HSUS, but I am disappointed with your headline describing this new law that only pertains to the “organic” label. Since the majority of food-animal farms are not, nor will ever be, organic farms, the word “sweeping” is a misnomer. Under current volumes of animals processed for the “meat” industry, the organic portion is just a drop in the bucket. And as others have stated here, organic requirements do not benefit the animals in the end.

    I don’t have a problem with the HSUS wanting to honor its own hard-fought accomplishments. I’m also thankful for the organizations ongoing efforts and accomplishments, but lets keep it real.

    “The thinking man [and woman] must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo . . . We need a boundless ethic which will include the animals also.”—Dr. Albert Schweitzer

    Compassion for animals should extend to your plate.

  26. madeline Bell says:

    Save the dogs!!!! All puppy mills should be shut down! They are tourtureing the dogs and they should be shut down immeaditly.!!!!!! animals r not ours 2 kill.

  27. Mark Donner says:

    The next step would be to BAN ALL VEAL AND LAMB, the torture and slaughter of baby animals. They are by definition criminally barbaric and vicious.

  28. Nathalie Connor says:

    Get your protest signs made up now because you will need them! Your new man in Agriculture portfolio is pro-puppy farms animals in entertainment. They make money. And Trump plans to reduce the numbers of wildlife listed under the wildlife protection act! He is a menace to society. Would it not be great to impeach him over his policies leading to the suffering of animals via his policies?

  29. Marianne Mansour says:

    I’m very happy for this new ruling. But it’s not enough. The law should be extended to all animal care. And please, please make it a law to put cameras in all processing plants!! Enough is enough!!

  30. kathy schoolfield says: Please don’t stop closing puppy mills. They have suffered enough, more than any little animal should. No food, no water, no love, only cruelty that they can’t stop. Please make the mills stay closed.

    • Carol Parham says:

      When did they ever start closing them? When profits are high, politicians are paid off for horrific abuse to continue. And Trump does not care about people much less animals, so we’ll need a change in POTUS to ever possibly see a change.

  31. ian says:

    Try tell all these to TRUMP, try very very hard!!~

  32. kathy schoolfield says:

    has any progress been made for the future of the puppies. these little guys need some laws protecting them desperately. please tell me if anything has been done to help their plight. they really need help. take care of them, please!!!

  33. Debbie Burd Burdelik says:

    What about the torture of the dairy cows, that was so awful to watch on how these cows are treated

  34. Barbara Lynch says:

    So it seems that the USDA has let us down again with its false promises and lies to improve the inhumane treatment of millions of animals. You stated in your recent blog, “Despite strong public support for the measure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has killed a rule that established clear and meaningful protections and higher animal welfare standards for farm animals raised under the organics label”. This is totally disgusting and unacceptable. It is deceitful and unlawful. There are so many dishonest and unscrupulous people running this agency. Are there no other organizations or agencies that can stand up to the USDA?

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