USDA Thumbs Nose at Public, Moves to Withdraw Organic Animal Rule

In January, the US Department of Agriculture proposed withdrawing the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. The rule represents the culmination of a decades-long process involving multiple stakeholder groups, including animal advocates, the organic industry, and the National Organic Standards Board. The rule provided basic protections to improve the welfare of organically raised animals, including access to the outdoors, space to roam, and prohibitions on certain types of painful physical alterations.

In the proposed withdrawal, the USDA claims that it lacks authority to regulate animal welfare under the Organic Foods Production Act. In reality, the USDA has acknowledged its authority to regulate animal welfare many times in the past. For example, the agency has a history of regulating animal welfare under the National Organic Program, including setting standards for animal care, living conditions, and access to the outdoors. Additionally, studies show that animal health and welfare are inextricably intertwined; the USDA’s assertion that it can only address “health care practices” but must avoid “stand-alone concern for animal welfare” is patently ridiculous.

AWI has rallied its supporters to submit comments in opposition to the withdrawal and continues to advocate in favor of implementation of the rule. Based upon review of the comments, a vast majority oppose withdrawal of the rule. Despite this, AWI is not optimistic that the rule will be implemented due to the influence of large organic egg producers, which have lobbied the USDA against implementation from the beginning of the rulemaking process. AWI will continue to monitor the status of this rule and advocate for higher welfare standards for farm animals.