The USDA is to seek public comment on a proposed new rule to clearly define the practices meat producers need to demonstrate in order to satisfy claims of raising livestock under organic standards.
The new rules aim to clarify how organic meat and poultry producers should treat livestock and ensure the health and wellbeing of their food animals from birth to slaughter.
Government plans to publish federal guidance on organic meat practice, raised under the Certified Organic label, are needed now more than ever, according to the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).
“AWI commends the USDA for proposing requirements for the welfare of animals raised under the Certified Organic label,” said Dena Jones, farm animal policy director at the Animal Welfare Institute. “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.”
The proposed new rule aims to highlight this, with proponents calling for clarification on minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for organic chicken, as well as stating the outdoor areas must be soil-based.
Jones said the terminology used in existing US organic policy has been “imprecise”, which created production practices that “could allow the welfare of some animals to be compromised”.
However, a senior figure inside the USA Egg and Poultry Export Council (USAPEEC), who asked to remain anonymous, said he does not take much notice of the claims from animal rights groups. "They have one goal in my humble opinion and that is to end animal agriculture as we know it. As such, I don't listen to them; I don't have much of an opinion on what animal rights groups say."