- The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) creates and oversees standards for producing USDA Organic-labeled foods, including dairy, meat and eggs.
- NOP regulations include some requirements for living conditions and health care for farm animals.
- Despite these requirements, factory farm-style operations can still receive USDA Organic certification since many NOP regulations have no means of objective measurement.
- We urge the USDA to improve the animal welfare standards of the USDA Organic label and better enforce the existing NOP regulations.
- You can make a difference for farm animals by Shopping With Your Heart and joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade.
Last week, the ASPCA filed official comments [PDF] calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the animal welfare standards of the USDA Organic label and better enforce existing requirements. The agency is now considering input submitted on its proposed “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” rule.
The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) creates and oversees standards for producing “USDA Organic” foods—including dairy, meat and eggs. The NOP’s regulations already include some requirements for living conditions and health care for farm animals, which could—and should—be interpreted and applied to provide a basic level of animal care and wellbeing. Under these regulations, producers must make provisions such as: exercise, freedom of movement, reduced stress, seasonal pasture access for cows, goats and sheep, as well as year-round access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, fresh air and direct sunlight.
However, many of the provisions relevant to animal welfare are undefined terms and lack any means of objective measurement, resulting in different interpretations among organic producers and certifiers. This has allowed industrialized, factory farm-style operations to gain a foothold in the popular “organic” marketplace. For example, the USDA estimates that nearly three-quarters of USDA Organic eggs come from hens who are relegated to screened-in, solid-floored “porches”—without true outdoor access.
The ASPCA has long called for better animal welfare standards for animals used to produce USDA Organic foods, as well as stronger enforcement of existing requirements. In 2017, the USDA finalized the long-awaited and widely celebrated Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule. Supported by a broad coalition that included farmers and the ASPCA, the OLPP rule’s specific and meaningful rearing, transport and slaughter standards closed many organic animal welfare loopholes. For example, the OLPP rule banned poultry porches in favor of true outdoor access for egg-laying hens. Sadly, in the wake of pressure from a small but vocal number of animal agribusiness interests, the current administration delayed and later rescinded the rule.
We urge the USDA to implement better animal welfare standards, like those contained in the OLPP rule—since without them, the USDA Organic standards fail to meet animals’ needs and consumer expectations [PDF]. In the meantime, though, the NOP’s existing health care and living condition standards for farm animals must be consistently interpreted and effectively enforced. We urge the USDA to directly address this need in its final Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule.
The ASPCA will remain vigilant as we strive to ensure that all farm animals receive meaningful welfare protections. Learn how you can make a difference for farm animals by Shopping With Your Heart and joining our Advocacy Brigade today.
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