Dept. of Agriculture overturns animal welfare standards for organic meat and eggs

Dept. of Agriculture overturns animal welfare standards for organic meat and eggs

"The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective", USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach said in a statement.

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing agency, which runs the National Organic Program responsible for the "certified organic" labels, does not have the legislative authority to regulate all aspects of animal care within the organic program, the department's marketing branch said in withdrawing the rule. Indeed, these standards were put together after a decade of careful consideration of its costs and benefits - like ensuring the integrity of a almost $50 billion industry serving millions of Americans.

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 was published by former President Barack Obama's Agriculture Department two days before he left office in January 2017.

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 rule would have "specified a set of standards for organic livestock and poultry created to minimize stress, facilitate natural behaviors and promote well-being", she noted in an update to a piece she published in December.

But this latest USDA decision codifies the big rift between the majority of certified organic producers, who follow the spirit of the law, and the fewer, much larger producers who seek to gain market advantage, primarily by continuously confining animals that are required by law to have outdoor access. The Trump administration is withdrawing federal rules that would require organic meat and egg producers to abide by stricter animal-welfare standards. The regulation had been developed and fully vetted for more than a decade by the organic sector, the National Organic Standards Board and USDA's National Organic Program.

In 2016, the USDA said that at least half of USA organic egg production came from operations that exclusively use roofed enclosures, known as porches, to provide outdoor access to hens. "USDA is hoping this issue will go away, but this latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation".

The Organic Trade Association contends there is overwhelming support for the rule by the organic industry and consumers. USDA has requested that this case be dismissed; now they have announced they are withdrawing the rule.

"Since the filing of our lawsuit last September, a host of organic stakeholders representing thousands of organic farming families, organic certifiers and organic policymakers - along with leading animal welfare and retail groups speaking out for millions of consumers - have joined our challenge", added Batcha. "When USDA fails to do this, it is time for the organic community to insist that it live up to its responsibility".

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