On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally proposed withdrawing a set of rules finalized at the end of the Obama administration that establish stronger, more enforceable animal welfare requirements for certified organic producers.
The rules, titled the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, are the product of more than a decade of collaboration and coordination among the organic community, including consumers, farmers, veterinarians, environmentalists and animal welfare groups. Unfortunately, a few large-scale egg producers fear the new rules will expose their less-than-organic practices and put pressure on USDA and Congress to stop the rule.
"The new rules are vital for protecting animal welfare, organic consumers, and the thousands of farmers that opt-in to organic certification," said Cameron Harsh, senior manager for Organic & Animal Policy at the Center for Food Safety.
The rules, which have been delayed from implementation three separate times since being finalized in January 2017, provide needed clarity on organic animal care, including prohibiting several painful alterations. In particular, the rules require all animals to have real access to the outdoors, which must include contact with soil and vegetation, and outline minimum spacing requirements for poultry. This is, in fact, what consumers already expect from the organic poultry and eggs they buy in stores. But the largest poultry producers have so far been able to consider small, cement, fenced-in areas as outdoor access and have not been required to abide by specific spacing limitations.
"The rules would hold all certified producers to the high standard of animal care that consumers expect and that the drafters of the organic law intended. If they are withdrawn, the steadily growing organic market and consumer trust in the organic seal will be at risk," added Harsh.
Center for Food Safety has submitted extensive comments in support of the rules. While the rules are not perfect, they are a substantial step toward ensuring all organic animals are provided a consistent level of care. The small but vocal opposition against the rules have misrepresented the realities of the rules in order to continue business-as-usual.
The proposal to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule is open for public comment until Jan. 17, 2018.