USDA Urged to Strengthen Farm Animal Welfare by Finalizing Long-Awaited Organic StandardsA coalition of more than 15 stakeholders urges the USDA to protect the integrity of the USDA Organic label and strengthen consumer trust by swiftly implementing the new Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) led more than 15 other organizations, farmers, and companies in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finalize the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) rule. These landmark federal regulations would require stronger welfare standards for animals raised under the “USDA Organic” label that better align with consumer expectations. The OLPS rule would also level the playing field for organic farmers who already adhere to higher-welfare practices, such as providing chickens with meaningful access to outdoor space where they can engage in natural behaviors.
The OLPS rule is similar to a 2017 rule that was withdrawn during the Trump administration, despite garnering support from tens of thousands of Americans and the vast majority of the organic farming community. The new rule offers a second chance at improving the lives of the more than 186 million farm animals raised annually under the USDA’s National Organic Program by ensuring it represents truly higher-welfare farming. Notably, the rule would clarify that enclosed, screened-in porches with a roof do not qualify as outdoor access, closing a major loophole that has resulted in producers denying outdoor access for egg-laying hens. It would also prohibit certain painful mutilations, such as the debeaking of birds, routine tail docking of pigs, and tail docking and face branding of cattle; prohibit gestation crates for pigs; and require environmental enrichment, including bedding, rooting materials for pigs, and perches for egg-laying hens.
According to a recent national poll, the overwhelming majority (80 percent) of organic consumers say animal welfare is important to them when considering whether to purchase organic animal products, and 85 percent stated that it’s important for the federal government to establish clear, uniform standards for animal welfare on organic farms.
“We’re encouraged to see the USDA revisiting the OLPS rule to fix inconsistencies and loopholes in the National Organic Program. The exploitation of these flaws has put the lives and welfare of millions of animals at risk, and we urge the agency to act swiftly and decisively to correct them,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “The National Organic Program should be acting as intended—protecting animals raised on organic farms and keeping consumers accurately aware of farming conditions—not obscuring the truth and allowing cruel farming practices to get a pass. The ASPCA is dedicated to ensuring the USDA’s welfare standards are meaningful for animals and meet public expectations of what the organic label entails.”
“We applaud the USDA for taking steps to right the wrongs of the previous administration by proposing the OLPS rule that will codify animal welfare standards for hundreds of millions of animals raised on organic farms. For far too long, the lack of clear, uniform animal welfare standards under the National Organic Program has failed consumers and allowed factory farm-style operations to reap the financial benefits of the organic label without providing the higher-welfare conditions that consumers expect,” said Susan Millward, Executive Director of AWI. “Meaningful outdoor access for animals and the ability for them to live more natural lives are at the heart of organic production. If the USDA truly wishes to protect the integrity of the organic label, it must quickly finalize and implement the OLPS rule to ensure animals are raised to a higher standard that is consistent across organic farms.”
As part of its deliberation on the proposed OLPS rule, the USDA is accepting comments on its implementation timelines. The department has proposed giving existing organic producers as many as 15 years to comply with the new outdoor space requirements for poultry. Organic consumers overwhelmingly reject such an unacceptable delay and want faster implementation, with 92 percent of organic consumers supporting timelines of three years or less. As this pending rule waits to be implemented, many conscientious consumers continue to purchase—and pay more for—organic animal products under the mistaken belief that this label ensures animals have pasture access and other welfare-related benefits. Until the USDA finalizes the OLPS rule, large multinational corporations will continue to take advantage of loopholes in existing organic regulations to label items produced under cruel, factory-farm conditions as “organic” and mislead well-intentioned consumers.
In addition to protecting farm animals and bringing the USDA Organic label more in line with consumer expectations, these new standards will support a level playing field for the majority of independent organic farmers who already provide meaningful outdoor access for their animals and hold themselves to higher standards than what is currently required. This long-awaited rule is supported by 57 U.S. representatives and 20 senators, who have recommended quick implementation. Public support for the OLPS rule also remains high, with over 28,000 comments already submitted by ASPCA and AWI advocates alone.
The extended deadline to submit public comments is November 10, and the USDA will review comments before publishing the final rule. To submit a comment in support of the OLPS rule before the deadline, please visit ASPCA.org/OrganicRule.