The “USDA Organic” Label and Farm Animal Welfare
Among the overwhelming array of labels appearing on our food packages, “organic” is a claim that many conscientious consumers now seek out because they believe it indicates more responsible production practices. But when it comes to meat, eggs and dairy, shoppers concerned about animal welfare need to be aware of the label’s limitations.
What Does “Organic” Mean for Animal Welfare?
In order to use the USDA Organic Seal, meat, egg and dairy producers must follow production standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Currently, these standards require that USDA Organic animals are:
- Raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors
- Fed organic feed
- Not administered hormones or unnecessary antibiotics
Studies show that consumers also assume that animals from organic farms had exposure to fresh air, vegetation and significantly more space to move than on standard, non-organic farms. In reality, the standards do not provide clear requirements for either space or outdoor access for most animals.
As a result, some large, USDA Organic-certified producers are raising animals in conditions virtually indistinguishable from factory farming.
With the market for organic meat, eggs and dairy growing rapidly and more than 60 million animals’ lives at stake each year, the ASPCA has advocated strongly for the USDA to address this widening gap between consumer expectations and the reality on some organic farms.
What’s Happening Now?
Over the past decade, tens of thousands of concerned consumers, veterinarians, members of the organic agriculture industry and NGOs, including the ASPCA, have pressured the USDA to improve animal welfare standards in the USDA Organic program. This led to a major victory: in January 2017 the USDA issued the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule (“OLPP rule”)—a substantial overhaul of USDA Organic’s animal welfare standards that would add the following critical protections and requirements for animals raised in the program:
- Separate poultry, transport and slaughter standards
- Easy access to the outdoors
- Outdoor access requirements for all species
- Indoor and outdoor space requirements for poultry
- Specific indoor enrichment requirements
- Overarching pain control requirements
By establishing animal protections that consumers have long believed were already requirements of the USDA Organic program, the OLPP rule helps align the program with consumer expectations.
Unfortunately, a small number of large producers and conventional trade groups are pressuring the current administration to derail the rule. As a result, the USDA has twice delayed its implementation and has now proposed an additional rule that may retract the OLPP rule altogether.
You can help: Please speak up for the more than 60 million farm animals raised on organic farms.