Organic Standards Evolving

Despite popular belief that an organic label ensures animal welfare, this is not the case. Organic rules pertaining to animals have been limited to use of organically-grown feed without animal byproducts and prohibiting use of hormones and antibiotics. Granted, antibiotics should not be given to animals on a routine basis to promote growth or prevent disease. However, organic animals in need of antibiotics to treat disease are either deprived of appropriate treatment so their products can be sold as organic or are transitioned to the less lucrative conventional market which is even less concerned with animal welfare. In February, the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) published a rule, fully effective February 2011, requiring that most organic ruminants actively graze on pasture at least 120 days per year. Though an improvement, organic is still not synonymous with high-welfare and it does not ensure that animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range for the majority of their lives. Consumer expectation coupled with the recent USDA Office of Inspector General report critical of the Department’s oversight of the NOP will hopefully be the impetus needed to make this a program with integrity.