By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
There are more than 60 million farm animals raised each year to USDA organic program standards, and more can now be done to support better welfare for animals raised for food. Kathy Milani/The HSUS
The United States Department of Agriculture is currently accepting public comment on its proposed organic standards rule for livestock and poultry, which is an excellent opportunity to address farm animal welfare. We are pushing for this landmark federal rule to become final because the rule, which has been in the works for more than twenty years, would strengthen animal welfare standards on organic farms.
The fundamental purpose of the rule is to better align the “USDA Organic” label with public expectations regarding the welfare of animals raised for food. A 2017 Consumer Reports survey found that 86% of those who always or often buy organic products believe it is very important that animals used to produce organic food are raised on farms with high welfare standards. . The survey also revealed that 83% of organic consumers consider it important that organic eggs come from hens that can go outside and have enough space to roam freely.
More than 60 million farm animals are raised each year to USDA Organic Program standards. But there is more at stake in our opinion. The federal government needs to do a better job of supporting better welfare for animals raised for food, and the organics program is a natural place to demonstrate such a commitment.
The proposed rule on organic products dates back to the passage in 1990 of the Organic Food Production Act, which authorized a national program on organic products. The rule, like the program, exists to satisfy the public’s demand for meaningful organic standards, and people have repeatedly said they want the rule to mean something in terms of its implications and effects on the good. – to be animal.
Among its provisions, the proposed rule includes a ban on the use of cruel gestation crates in the organics program for animal welfare and public health reasons. Pigs must have enough space to move around and adopt natural behaviours.
The rule also sets minimum standards in other key areas. For all cattle raised organically, it prohibits painful practices such as tail docking and face branding. It prohibits the transport for sale or slaughter of non-ambulatory “slaughtered animals”. Organic wool producers would no longer be able to inflict “mulesing” on sheep, i.e. the brutal removal of strips of skin from the animal’s back. The rule also clarifies that producers cannot refuse individual treatment intended to minimize the pain and suffering of injured, sick or sick animals.
We are convinced of the value of this rule. That’s why the Humane Society of the United States took legal action when the Trump administration withdrew the first iteration of this rule finalized under the Obama administration. It’s also why we’re asking our supporters and allies to submit public comments on the proposal. Finally, this is why we directly urge the Secretary of Agriculture to forcefully assert the USDA’s organic decision-making authority to protect animal welfare.
A consistent standard for animal welfare would level the playing field and benefit the hundreds of organic producers who operate under the scheme and create incentives for more farmers to adopt and adhere to higher welfare standards. . Already, a number of businesses have thrived, in part due to the perceived strength of the organic label. These companies understand that consumer confidence in the organic label is essential to their success.
There is no reason to wait: we remain concerned by the arguments in favor of extending the implementation period to fifteen years for certain parts of a rule that has already taken so long to develop. Its content comes as no surprise to anyone in the field, its basic premises are well known to all stakeholders, and it is supported by a large number of organic producers, many of whom are already fully compliant. An implementation period of 15 years is far too long and would further blur consumer expectations of the organic label. We consider the need for the rapid implementation of this vital rule to be irrefutable.
In a better world, it would be obvious that farm animals should have space and freedom to roam. But in ours, where pregnant pigs are routinely confined to crates so small they can barely move an inch and hens are crammed into tiny battery cages, it has been necessary to uphold these principles even further. and again, in contexts ranging from state and federal law to our work in animal welfare litigation.
It is only right that we set high standards for the organics program. Its fundamental objective is to strengthen agricultural production models that are sustainable, respectful of the environment, sensitive to animal welfare and better for humans and human society.
Higher standards in the organic production program will be a boon for responsible farmers, a benefit for consumers and a better guarantee of animal welfare practices in line with changing public opinion.
Take action for farm animals and urge USDA to finalize proposed rule
Sara Amundson is chair of the Humane Society’s Legislative Fund.
Farm animals, public policy (legal/legislative)