Organic Animal Welfare Standards Published, but Put on Hold

AWI has worked to improve animal welfare standards under the US Department of Agriculture’s Certified Organic label for over 15 years. In early 2017, our efforts helped lead the USDA to finalize a rule to improve the lives of millions of organically raised animals.

This is a (potentially) historic moment, as there are currently no substantive federal standards for the raising of farm animals under the law. The rule reduces inconsistencies in the animal care provided by organic producers, and helps farmers who raise their animals in accordance with higher welfare standards. It creates minimum space requirements for chickens raised for meat and for egg-laying hens, restricts physical alterations such as tail docking of cattle, and provides requirements for the more humane handling of animals during transport. AWI urged the USDA to make several improvements to the proposed rule released by the USDA in 2016. The department heeded our recommendations that birds have access to vegetation and that the practice of euthanizing piglets by manual blunt force trauma be prohibited.

While the final rule, should it go into effect, will significantly improve the welfare of animals, it does fall short in some areas. It does not, for instance, “ensure … that all organic animals live in pasture-based systems,” as the USDA claims. Nevertheless, it does ensure that all such animals at least have some access to the outdoors—a significant improvement from the current organic regulatory requirements.

Unfortunately, upon taking office, President Trump signed an executive order that delays the rule for 60 days, and some members of Congress are working to repeal it. AWI will continue to work to have this important rule implemented.