Progress on animal welfare labels that actually mean what they say

Raising our standards for the treatment of farmed animals means redefining how we choose our food, what our labels mean, and whose purposes they serve.

Raising our standards for the treatment of farmed animals means redefining how we choose our food, what our labels mean, and whose purposes they serve.

One day before President Trump was sworn in to office, the USDA sought an eleventh hour win to raise the standard of ethical treatment of farmed animals labeled as “USDA Organic”.  The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) is the result of a 10-year project to improve transparency and re-define the standard of animal welfare in organic factory farms.  The rule would be the most extensive animal welfare law ever passed by the U.S. government.

Organic Does Not Mean Ethical

Currently, the “USDA Organic” label doesn’t inherently indicate a higher standard of animal welfare.  To help bridge the organic-ethical gap, the OLPP adds, clarifies, and expands various regulations regarding the handling and care of farmed animals for optimal health and welfare.  While the rule has received widespread support, the industry remains divided on the specific issue of outdoor spaces for poultry. 

A stakeholder group called Big Eggs has been very vocal against the OLPP.  This group argues that enclosements called “porches” should qualify as outdoor access for chickens.  These corporations feel the rule imposes a financial burden and disrupts their animal welfare progress.  However, this oppositional group of corporations is the minority. The other 95% of egg producers are already in compliance with the rule and promote the OLPP as a way to level the economic playing field with larger, industrial, less-ethical producers.

So, What’s the Problem?

Despite overwhelming approval of the OLPP during the public comment period, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue has been stalling this bill for almost a year.  But last month, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) made a huge move in advancing the enactment of the rule.  Citing a violation of the Organic Foods Production Act, the OTA sued the USDA for its reluctance to address the OLPP. Laura Batcha of the OTA asserted, “[The Organic Trade Association is] standing up on behalf of the entire organic sector to protect organic integrity, advance animal welfare, and demand the government keep up with the industry and the consumer in setting organic standards.”

Indeed, the livestock industry is very supportive of the rule, even going as far as to rally 334 beef, pork, dairy, and poultry producers to sign a letter to Sonny Purdue urging action.  Consumers echo their sentiments.  A recent report by a coalition of animal welfare groups demonstrates how consumers are demanding organic and humane animal products more than ever.   

Takeaway:  While a lack of agency in urging policy decisions as a citizen is often frustrating, even just one person can make a difference as a consumer. Not only do corporations respond to increases in demand for organic products, but consumer behavior also informs policy decisions, such as passing the OLPP. Vote with your dollar by choosing products with the “USDA Organic” and “Animal Welfare Approved” label when possible. 

Read More: The Civil Eats' Why The Organic Industry is Suing the USDA Over Animal Welfare & Ground Breaking Animal Welfare Regulations for Organics Moving Forward