ASPCA and 27,370 Advocates Demand Better for Animals on Organic Farms

November 11, 2022

chickens in a field

Yesterday marked the end of the period during which the American public was invited to weigh in on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) proposed rule. Alongside the Animal Welfare Institute, the ASPCA led and submitted comments endorsed by 17 other animal-welfare, farming and environmental organizations and companies, including Shop With Your Heart brands like Alexandre Family Farms, Bilinski’s and Pitman Family Farms (Mary’s). Members of Congress also urged the USDA to finalize a strong OLPS rule, with long-time supporters Reps. Blumenauer (D-OR), DeFazio (D-OR), and Pingree (D-ME) and Sen. Leahy (D-VT) leading sign-on letters in the House [PDF] and Senate [PDF]. 

ASPCA advocates rallied to improve farm animal welfare, submitting 27,370 comments in support of a strong organic animal-welfare rule, representing 70% of the total comments submitted to the USDA!

The OLPS rule comes nearly five years after the original organic animal-welfare rule was withdrawn by the Trump Administration, garnering over 70,000 public comments opposing the withdrawal. Among many improvements for animal welfare, the newly proposed OLPS rule would specify minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for broiler chickens and egg-laying hens, closing a loophole that has allowed large companies to provide birds only with access to covered, concrete porches. The rule also requires critical environmental enrichments, like bedding, rooting material and dustbathing opportunities for pigs, and perches for laying hens. Additionally, it prohibits painful physical alterations, like routine tail-docking of pigs and debeaking of chickens and turkeys. 

The ASPCA has urged the USDA to implement a strong final rule as quickly as possible. We also have recommended a number of improvements to better align the OLPS rule with both consumer expectations and meaningful animal-welfare certifications. 

According to a recent national poll [PDF], the overwhelming majority of organic consumers (80%) say animal welfare is important to them when considering whether to purchase organic animal products, and 85% feel that it’s important for the federal government to establish clear, uniform standards for animal welfare on USDA Organic farms. Eighty-four percent think that organic standards should meet or exceed standards required by animal-welfare certifications. Finalizing a robust and detailed organic animal-welfare rule will ensure that standards are being enforced uniformly across farms engaged in the program, leveling the playing field for higher-welfare farmers being outcompeted by large producers taking advantage of existing loopholes.

Critically, the coalition comments stress that the USDA should implement the new rule on the shortest possible timeline. Animals, farmers and consumers have already waited far too long for a meaningful rule, and the timelines suggested by the agency fail to recognize this urgency. Most worrisome is the agency’s suggested timeline of 15 years for full implementation of the new rule—despite the fact that 98% of organic consumers want a faster phase-in. A 15-year phase-in is completely unacceptable, and our comments urge the USDA to require organic producers to meet the new animal-welfare rules within three years, which 92% of organic consumers support.

The OLPS rule offers a much-needed second chance to improve the lives of the more than 186 million farm animals raised annually under the USDA Organic program. The USDA will review comments on the OLPS proposed rule before finalizing new organic animal-welfare standards. Join the Advocacy Brigade to make sure you’re ready to take action when farm animals need you!