The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering the proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards to clarify and ensure consistent application of the USDA organic standards. Animal welfare groups argue that the updates have the potential to improve living conditions of the more than 186 million farm animals raised annually under the USDA’s National Organic Program.
The new standards, ruled on by 57 U.S. representatives and 20 U.S. senators., will restrict and define livestock health practices. These include prohibiting the debeaking and desnooding of birds and tail docking of cattle. The rules will also require perches for egg-laying hens and ban gestation crates for pregnant swine, to improve living conditions in indoor and outdoor spaces. Shelters will also need to provide sufficient room for ruminants, swine, and birds to lie down, stand up, and fully stretch their limbs and wings.
Gillian Lyons, Director of Regulatory Affairs at the Humane Society Legislative Fund tells Food Tank, “If finalized, the changes proposed in the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule will improve the lives of millions of animals raised in the organic program.”
According to Lyons, these proposed changes have the potential to improve the living conditions and overall health of animals raised under the program. Additionally, the steps this rule takes to establish animal welfare standards will positively impact public health by improving food safety but also by preventing potential epidemics and pandemics, Lyons explains.
“By favoring free-range over high-density cage farming, the rule will reduce the risk of transmission and proliferation of disease (like avian influenza),” Lyons says. The rule’s animal welfare standard improvements will reduce stress in animals, improving their immune systems and reducing the risk of disease, and in turn, transmission to humans, she adds.
The proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards represent the first updates to organic animal livestock guidelines since 2017. At the time, animal advocacy groups called the reform “modest” and the updates served to reflect standards already adopted by many organic producers in the country. The 2017 changes outlined were indoor and outdoor poultry stocking limits, requirements to provide outdoor access, and a ban on several physical alteration practices that were still commonly used. The new additions to the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards will strengthen animal care and improve living conditions, more so than the previous rule.
A Consumer Reports survey finds that almost 90 percent of organic shoppers believe it is important to have high animal welfare standards for food labeled organic. Charlotte Vallaeys, Senior Policy Analyst with Consumer Reports recently testified at a USDA National Organic Standards Board meeting, stating, “Consumers expect organic farms to adhere to strong and consistent standards, including high standards for animal welfare.” She adds that consumers believe that by purchasing organic meat and poultry products, animal welfare is already covered.
The new rules may also benefit the economic livelihood of farmers, Johanna Mirenda, Farm Policy Director at the Organic Trade Association tells Food Tank. “Strengthening organic animal welfare standards is critical for the sustainability of family farms, the advancement of organic, and the continued trust of consumers in the organic label,” Mirenda tells Food Tank.
If the new standards go into effect, the USDA plans to grant organic farmers up to 15 years to finance and build sufficient infrastructure to comply with the new regulations. But advocates like Mirenda feel that’s too much time: “The excessively long 15-year implementation option presented by USDA in the proposed rule is unacceptable as it would amplify the existing consumer confusion and market failure that USDA acknowledges in the proposed rule.”
And Lyons argues that the new rules should come as no surprise to those in the organic industry. She says that “Its basic premises are well known to stakeholders; and it is supported by many organics producers, many of whom are already fully compliant. We consider the case for swift implementation of this vital rule to be an overwhelming one.”
Despite concerns about the timeline, Lyons believes that the new rules will be a win for animals and consumers. “We firmly believe that in finalizing this rule, the Biden Administration would not only be protecting animals,” she tells Food Tank, “they’d be increasing customer satisfaction with the organic label.”
Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Iversen , Unsplash