Animal Welfare Standards for Organic Livestock in Danger

It’s More Important than Ever to Know Your Farmer

Pig Snout

Last year, we asked the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to move forward on a proposed rule aimed to safeguard the welfare of millions of animals across the country that are raised organic. Along with many of you, we were surprised to find that animals raised under the organic label are not afforded basic welfare protections – such as having enough space to lie down, stand up, and fully stretch their limbs, or fresh air and ventilation.

USDA set out to change these inhumane practices and ultimately finalized the organic animal welfare rule during the last few days of the Obama administration. The language of the rule was a result of nearly two-decades of work among several stakeholders and requires that animals raised organic have:

  • “Unencumbered” access to the outdoors
  • More space to lie down, stand up, and fully stretch limbs
  • Greater limits for painful physical alterations
  • Improved access to pasture, sunlight and fresh air
  • Minimum standards for transport and slaughter 

While the rule was set to become effective in March this year, USDA has pushed back the implementation of the rule three times under the new presidential administration. Earlier this month, the USDA published a notice in the Federal Register claiming that the benefits of the rule may be outweighed by the costs.

This comes after a move by the USDA to remove from its website all inspection reports and other related information regarding the treatment of animals at thousands of facilities across the country – making it harder for animal welfare advocates to show evidence of inhumane treatment.

Fortunately, the Organic Trade Association has filed a lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act against the USDA for this undue delay.

When the organic animal welfare rule was originally under consideration, Fair Farms joined the public in sending a message to the USDA that was loud and clear: 99.5 percent of the 47,000 comments submitted urged the agency to implement the rule and afford protections for all animals raised organic.  

The USDA rule is a step in the right direction in meeting consumer expectations and providing better economic protections for the organic farmers who already are raising their animals under high welfare standards. Now, it’s up to the USDA to improve the lives of these animals, increase labeling transparency, and level the playing field for organic farmers who already implement these types of humane practices. 

What can you do to help?

Without government action, it’s more important than ever to know your farmer and support those who raise livestock humanely. Don’t be afraid to ask farmers and ranchers how they raise their animals. Here are some questions you can ask to get the conversation started. If you are unable to buy your meat directly from a farmer, check out this report on which meat labels you can trust.