Breaking news: USDA abandons rule on higher welfare standards for animals raised under organics label

By on March 13, 2018 with 24 Comments

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. The USDA delayed implementation of the rule three times before yesterday’s announcement that it would formally withdraw the rule. This gift props up factory farming operations that exploit the confusion and imprecision of prevailing standards. And it’s a travesty for millions of animals raised within the organic system, as well as the consumers who appreciate organic products and look to the government to support stronger welfare norms under the USDA’s authority.

The USDA now claims—for the first time ever—that it does not have statutory authority to pass rules improving welfare conditions for livestock, including poultry, on organic farms. The agency has conveniently ignored its own regulatory history of doing so, such as with its “access to pasture” rule, promulgated in 2010. That rule required that ruminant animals be allowed to graze, and clarified that producers had to maintain pastures for their animals. The USDA has also ignored comments from key members of Congress that contradict the agency’s recently-formed interpretation.

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule encompassed an array of housing, husbandry, and management standards, standards that consumers expect when they buy organic products. The rule prohibited cruel practices like “tail docking” of cattle and transporting animals too sick or injured to endure the journey. The rule also ensured that animals raised under the standard could not be tightly confined, and it set minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for egg-laying chickens. Importantly, the rule closed a loophole in current regulations that allow large poultry companies to skirt the law and use screened-in porches to satisfy “outdoor access” requirements.

By withdrawing the rule, which was supported by most prominent organic trade groups and producers, including family farmers, and by some large-scale non-organic producers, such as Perdue Farms, the agency has chosen to ignore the wishes of thousands of stakeholders committed to higher welfare standards. The USDA is also ignoring the wishes of a majority of Americans who want to see the National Organic Program establish criteria in line with their expectations for how animals should be treated before slaughter.

In its haste to rationalize its backtracking, the USDA plays up the “costs” of the organics standards, ignoring that the standards are heavily favored by organic producers. The agency also ignores that the organics market is one in which consumers have already determined that there is added value in paying premiums for products associated with high standards of animal welfare. Indeed, these standards were put together after a decade of careful consideration of its costs and benefits – like ensuring the integrity of a nearly $50 billion industry serving millions of Americans. In a matter like this, the public rightly expected the agency responsible for regulating the nation’s food supply to step up its game, not to take a step backward.

Last May, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, seeking to communicate his view of the agency’s duty to the American people, said, “We owe it to the consumer to let them know we are concerned about their safety and the wholesomeness, nutritious capacity about the food they consume. They deserve to know and we better be able to tell them.”

Apparently, someone in the secretary’s own agency didn’t get the memo.

Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Rebecca says:

    Is there anything else consumers can to change this?

  2. Arminda Cockett says:

    Dear US Dept. Of Agriculture:
    Cows, chickens and other animals deserve the right to the least amount of suffering possible. Please HAVE A HEART and do the right thing and move to ensure this legally. Please do not step backwards by withdrawing policies in this direction. The Organics industry and farmers support this, and the animals deserve this.

    Thank you.
    Arminda Cockett

  3. joe says:

    I personally don’t care how my meals are slaughtered as long as they are deemed safe for consumption.

    • Charlie says:

      If you do not care how your food animals are treated and slaughtered, you do not deserve, and should not expect, to have them “safe for consumption”.

    • Jennifer Fordyce says:

      Kitty Block,
      Please tell us how we can get the USDA to change their position on this matter. Surely, there is some level of organizing or campaigning heavily to local reps that could impact this decision. I don’t see how they can simply ignore the wishes of the majority of American voters that pay high prices for organic food. Animals already pay with their lives so that we can eat, they shouldn’t have to suffer through their entire short existence. Thanks.

    • Carol says:

      What a great guy you are Joe! A real softy ehh?

    • lesley says:

      when u eat meat from terrified animals, that is loaded with adrenaline & cortisol from poor agricultural care & inhumane butchering, your body pays the price.
      plus it’s the right thing to do.

    • Becky says:

      You aren’t worth a response.

    • Vegan Vinnie says:

      That pretty much rules out all animal products.

  4. Amanda Pfeiffer says:

    All animals and beings deserve the right to move, be outside, eat well, and to be free of abuse. Let us not take for granted we are all beings under God and we all deserve these extremely basic treatments in life. As humans we will eventually be held accountable by a Greater Power for our actions. So important to teach our children to love others Including Animals and those that share our environment. Praying this is changed. It was one way I could use my dollars to advocate for proper animal welfare. 😢 (Besides not eating a lot of animal products). 🙏 to those who are involved at he USDA, please make a positive change (back) for the animals.

  5. David Davis says:

    Factory farms must be abolished. Attaching an organic label for sales purposes is really distusting

  6. Suzie says:

    So it’s cheaper to mistreat the animals ? Give me a break, the animals deserve respect too and that’s priceless. I understand people need food, but the way it’s made it’s DISGUSTING and inhumane. It amazes me how senseless and heartless people can be.

  7. Nadine Heinen says:

    Absolutely horrible. There has to be regulations for treating these animals cruelty free and humane. They are living breathing things with feelings and this is not right. You have to respect all living things. We have to work together to get this changed!!

  8. Melissa Risselada says:

    I think it’s a shame that an agency that is there to protect citizens seems to be instead ignoring them. What can be done if our government isn’t doing its job?? How can we put up with three more years of this? Give us some ideas please!

    • Phyllis DaMota says:

      The USDA has not been doing the job it was tasked with for a very, very long time. They have all kinds of conflicts of interest and are in bed with the meat and dairy industries.

  9. Teresa Hernandez says:


  10. 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, “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?

  11. Janis says:

    I gave up eating beef and pork over 30 years ago after I had read a book on how animals are tortured alive skinned alive, before slaughtered. Cows show tears in the slaughterhouse having to see and know how their beloved friends and family members are being “skinned alive” and suffer horrible pain prior to dying. When these animals die like this, the adrenaline in their bodies create tons of poisons that humans later ingest. These poisons especially affect the delicate hormonal balance in the human body that can cause “PMS and hot flashes” in females, for example. Pigs are smarter than dogs and certainly kinder and more compassionate than their “murderous, insensitive: butchers.
    I can accept people eating meat but something needs to be done about forcing quick slaughters in slaughterhouses, skinning animals alive, just so they can “do the job faster.” The buddhists teach that those people who butcher animals for a living, often reincarnate without limbs. That’s because in a past life, they might have skinned the animal alive or cut off the animals’ limb while alive, etc. They then get reincarnated without limbs themselves, or sometimes, reincarnate as an animal where they become the animal in the slaughterhouse. No one can prove that this is a false doctrine. However, Jesus himself said, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Jesus didn’t specify if the word “others” he referred to were human or animals. It makes common sense that we were not meant to abuse animals. Even Jews and Native Americans in their animal sacrifices, pray over the animals first and kill them quickly with a sharp knife to the throat. Animals are brighter and wiser than we make them out to be and deserve to be killed in more humane ways.

  12. Karen says:

    I’d like to ask you to look into how your food is raised and processed, unless you’re afraid it will change your mind.

  13. Jim boyy says:

    What should surprise anyone about this , don’t care about human life , why should they care about animals, it’s up to us to be the change , government decisions always about the money, helping big donors that line their pockets

  14. Michael Drake says:

    Once again decisions made by the Trump administration are based on one criteria – MONEY. If you contribute millions, we listen. This USDA decision increases profits for factory farms. Let me be blunt. The companies that operate factory farms don’t give a damn about how cruelly animals are treated. Furthermore, they don’t give a damn about the wishes or health of consumers either – as long as they make big profits and don’t go to jail.

  15. Sunil says:

    Do not support the meat trade! GO VEGAN ITS THE BEST CHOICE YOU WILL EVER MAKE FOR YOUR BODY MIND AND SOUL…on judgement day the hunters will be hunted.

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