Coalition urges USDA to strengthen animal welfare by finalising organic standards

The OLPS rule would level the playing field for organic farmers
calendar icon 28 October 2022
clock icon 3 minute read

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) today, along with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) led more than 15 other organisations, farmers, and companies in urging the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to finalise 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 behaviours, the organisation said in a press release.

"The OLPS rule is similar to a 2017 rule that was withdrawn during the Trump administration, despite garnering support from tens of thousands of Americans and the vast majority of the organic farming community," the coalition continued. "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," the letter continued. "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, 80% of organic consumers say animal welfare is important to them when considering whether to purchase organic animal products, and 85% 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 finalise and implement the OLPS rule to ensure animals are raised to a higher standard that is consistent across organic farms."

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