The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) commends the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for proposing requirements for the welfare of animals raised under the Certified Organic label. AWI generally supports the proposed regulations, which are based on the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory body to the USDA’s organic program.
The proposed regulations are desperately needed, given that no substantive standards for the raising of animals have existed since the national organic regulations went into effect in February 2001. The lack of specific requirements for animal welfare has resulted in great variability in the level of animal care provided by organic producers. Some producers raise animals on pasture with high welfare, while others raise animals in a manner similar to conventional, intensive agriculture. In some instances organically raised animals are never even given the opportunity to go outdoors, for example.
One of the chief reasons shoppers choose to pay more for organic foods is because they believe animals raised under organic systems are treated better. However, because this is not always the case, animal welfare organizations in the United States typically do not recommend the Certified Organic label to consumers. The NOSB has acknowledged that imprecise language in the organic regulations has created production practices “which could allow the welfare of some animals to be compromised.”
AWI has worked toward strong animal welfare standards since the organic regulations were originally drafted in the 1990s. The organization has testified at NOSB meetings and served on an animal welfare working group that advised the board’s Livestock Committee. It has also engaged thousands of its supporters in lobbying the NOSB and the USDA to adopt strong animal welfare standards.
The proposed regulations represent the first comprehensive federal standards for the raising of farm animals in the United States. The USDA should act expeditiously to finalize the rule.