WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to uphold organic integrity and announced the withdrawal of a new rule improving the living conditions for animals on certified organic farms. Despite widespread support from organic farmers and consumers in the U.S., the agency has buckled under pressure from a few large-scale egg operations that fear the stronger standards.
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule, finalized under the Obama Administration, strengthened the minimum requirements for the well-being of animals on organic farms. It was an important step towards guaranteeing that all organic producers must provide the high level of welfare that consumers expect and that the creators of the organic law intended. In particular, OLPP established minimum indoor and outdoor spacing requirements per bird for chickens and would no longer allow producers to consider small, cement, fenced-in areas as "outdoors."
"Consumers seeking organic animal products for their families have helped grow organic to the nearly $50 billion industry it is today," says Cameron Harsh, Senior Manager for Organic and Animal Policy at Center for Food Safety. "Their continued belief in organic depends on their ability to trust that all products carrying the organic seal were produced with the same level of integrity and the same care for animals, the environment, and communities."
CFS and tens of thousands of other stakeholders commented in January of this year against withdrawing the new rule. The USDA's rationale for withdrawal was severely flawed, ignoring not only the overwhelming public and industry support for the rule but the agency's own economic analyses demonstrating only minor economic impact on the industry from the rule's implementation.
"The vast majority of organic farmers that opt-in to organic certification strongly believe in providing their animals with sufficient space, meaningful outdoor access, proper lighting, appropriate diets, and clean conditions," says Harsh. "OLPP was necessary to protect the truly organic farmers from being undercut by operations that have taken advantage of ambiguities in the regulations."
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