ASPCA Joins Legal Battle Over USDA’s Delay of Organic Animal Welfare Rule

Animal welfare organization files amicus curiae brief in support of Organic Trade Association’s lawsuit against USDA
March 5, 2018

NEW YORK— On Thursday, March 1, the ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), with the assistance of the law firm Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris, PLLC, filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief supporting a critical case brought by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its continued delays in implementing the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Rule.

“The USDA is abdicating its responsibility to establish consistent and meaningful animal welfare standards for the USDA Organic label,” said Jennifer Chin, Esq., Vice President, ASPCA Legal Advocacy. “While most organic farmers embrace stronger animal welfare standards, some large-scale ‘faux ganic’ brands are increasingly exploiting loopholes in the USDA Organic program and raising animals in factory farm-like conditions.”

The OLPP Rule was finalized by the USDA in January 2017 and marked the first comprehensive set of regulations governing on-farm treatment of animals ever issued by the federal government. If implemented, the OLPP Rule would serve to significantly close the gap between consumers’ expectations regarding the quality of animal welfare under the organic label and the reality of what USDA Organic regulations currently require. Among many improvements, the new rule specified minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for chickens, along with meaningful outdoor access. The rule also required enrichment for a number of species, like dust bathing materials for birds, and prohibited certain kinds of physical alterations, like tail docking of cattle or de-beaking of chickens and turkeys.

Over the years, the ASPCA has played a key role in helping move the OLPP Rule forward. Most recently, in 2017, the ASPCA, with the Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Forward, released a comprehensive report about the decades-long battle to codify animal welfare standards for organic products. Since 2012, the ASPCA has actively informed the USDA and its advisory body, National Organic Standards Board, of the need for stronger organic animal welfare standards through the submission of detailed testimony and recommendations. The organization has also consistently rallied its millions of supporters, farm animal welfare experts, farmers, and other companies and organizations to encourage the USDA to implement the rule.

Unfortunately, under the Trump Administration, the OLPP Rule was subject to multiple implementation delays and, most recently, a proposal to withdraw the rule entirely. In September 2017, the OTA sued the USDA on grounds that the delay in implementation of the OLPP Rule violates the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 and breaches federally-mandated regulatory procedure.

The ASPCA’s amicus curiae brief argues that the USDA has a duty to establish meaningful and consistent animal welfare standards under OFPA, and OTA’s lawsuit therefore should not be dismissed by the court.

The brief further argues that:

  • Consumers expect products bearing the USDA Organic label to meet higher welfare standards.
  • The OLPP Rule provides significant protections that do not exist under current regulations such as environmental enrichments (e.g., perches, dustbathing material), restrictions on physical mutilations, transport coverage, and slaughter coverage as well as setting clear standards for poultry, including what constitutes “outdoor access.”

“The ASPCA stands with the OTA in requesting that the court direct the USDA to implement the OLPP Rule as written,” said Chin. “The USDA must not shirk its duty to the millions of animals raised each year under the organic label, the responsible farmers who operate under higher welfare standards, and the consumers of organic products who reasonably expect more humane treatment of farm animals.”

A full version of the brief is available here.

ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare

There are now nearly 10 billion land animals raised for food in the U.S. each year, the vast majority of which exist in inhumane factory-like facilities. The ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare Program is committed to directing consumers, corporations and lawmakers toward solutions that will improve these vulnerable animals’ lives. For more information about food labels which provide the most meaningful animal welfare standards, visit ASPCA’s campaign “Shop With Your Heart.”