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.