14 September 2022, Washington: The following is a statement from Senior Attorney Amy van Saun on the USDA National Organic Program Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Proposed Rule
After 10 years of stakeholder rulemaking and then over 4 years of litigation to save the rules from the Trump Administration’s withdrawal, we are finally on the verge of getting a set of much-needed improvements to the organic standards for animal welfare. On August 9, 2022, the USDA National Organic Program published the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) Proposed Rule to strengthen organic animal welfare standards.
The proposed rule is nearly identical to the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule issued in January 2017 and is an important first step in animal welfare improvements in the organic program. This set of rules will, when implemented, immediately improve the lives of millions of chickens raised organically. Thanks in part of CFS’s hard-fought litigation, the OLPS will make several significant improvements, including:
- Confirming in detail the USDA’s authority under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to set standards for the health and welfare of organic livestock. This averts the disastrous consequences of the Trump USDA’s contrary interpretation—strenuously challenged in CFS’s lawsuit—that would have hamstrung the National Organic Program’s ability to ensure farmers have a level playing field or to meet consumer expectations for the treatment of organic animals.
- Confirming the economic benefits to farmers from improving animal welfare and to consumers who will be able to more fully rely on the USDA Organic seal to ensure good animal welfare, rather than having to resort to third-party private certifications.
- Setting indoor and outdoor spacing requirements for chickens and eliminating the “porch” loophole that some factory farms exploited to avoid providing birds with meaningful outdoor access.
- Prohibiting unnecessary physical alterations, such as de-beaking and tail docking in cattle.
- Setting new standards to ensure welfare during transport and slaughter.
OLPS could be stronger, however, and CFS along with its partners will advocate that USDA clarify provisions to ensure, for example, that chickens have not just access to the outdoors, but to real pasture, and that they will thrive in the outdoor environment. As CFS advocated in 2016, this set of rules should also add more specifics for pigs: while they are included in some of the protections, clear stocking restrictions are absent, and several unnecessary physical alternations are still allowed. Further details on these recommendations for improvements to OLPS are forthcoming.
Finally, USDA must implement this rule more quickly than proposed. Five years for egg-laying operations and 3 years for broiler chicken operations to come into compliance is far too long, much less the 15 years USDA proposes alternatively. Given how long the industry has known about these improvements (over a decade) and past livestock rules, one year is sufficient implementation time and will reduce the wait for the crucial and long-overdue improvements for farmers, consumers, and the lives of millions of animals.
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