Trump Admin. Eliminates Animal Welfare Rule
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by Countable | 3.13.18
UPDATE - March 13, 2018: The Trump administration has officially withdrawn an Obama-era rule that would have set higher standards for the way animals should be treated if their meat can be sold as "certified organic."
In the dying days of the Obama administration, the USDA gave their final approval to the Organic Animal Welfare Rule, also known as the Organic Livestock and Poultry Production rule. The OLLP included a requirement that organic egg producers provide actual outdoor space – around 2 square feet – for each egg-laying hen.
Trump's USDA delayed the implementation of the rule three times before officially overturning it on Monday.
“The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” Greg Ibach, under secretary of Agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a statement. “The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.”
Countable's original story appears below.
What’s the story?
Organic eggs are supposed to come from chickens with year-round access to the outdoors. But what, exactly, does "year round access to the outdoors" mean?
A lawsuit filed by the Organic Trade Association against the U.S. Department of Agriculture is hoping to answer that question. The OTA is suing the government, demanding, as NPR explained, "that [the USDA] implement new rules that require organic egg producers to give their chickens more room to roam."
Large-scale organic egg producers, however, argue that "access to the outdoors" includes coops with screened-in porches.
Why does it matter?
When the Trump administration took office, it issued a regulatory freeze order to federal agencies—including the USDA. The OTA lawsuit is arguing that the January 20, 2017 freeze "should not apply to organic standards because they are voluntary and are required only of those farms and businesses that opt in to be certified organic." The association is demanding that the government implement the OLLP rules, striking down “the use of ‘porches’ to comply with the existing outdoor access requirements.”
Large-scale organic egg producers are continuing to push back. "It's kind of like your screened porch on your house," Greg Herbruck, president of Herbruck's Poultry Ranch in Saranac, Mich., explained to NPR. "When you go out there, you're outside. You're protected from the rain. In this case, we protect [the chickens] from disease and from predators."
There’s also an economic advantage: screened-in porches mean chicken houses can be built right next to each other, "with more than 100,000 chickens in each one," according to NPR. Nearly half of all organic eggs in the U.S. come from farms like this.
Smaller farms, and activists, have been trying for more than a decade to revamp the outdoor-access requirements for organic chickens. "It needs to be a whole system that features the bird's basic needs, and there's no doubt that a hen wants to be outside scratching in the ground," George Siemon, CEO of the Organic Valley cooperative, told NPR.
In a statement released by OTA, Siemon further explained that the "organic consumer and community" worked closely with the USDA and Congress, through an “established rulemaking process,” to craft the “sound regulation.” "For the [Trump] administration to now let political pressure derail that progress is an assault on the trust in the organic process that the organic industry works so hard every day to earn," Simeon said.
"Animal living conditions and welfare are a critical part of an organic livestock system. We in organic need to lead on this front, and the consumer’s trust in organic needs to be respected."
What do you think?
Does "outdoor access" mean claws on grass? Or are screened-in porches acceptable? Do you agree with Herbruck that porches are better for the birds? Or do you side with Siemon that there’s “no doubt that a hen wants to be outside scratching in the ground”? Hit the Take Action button, tell your reps, then comment below.
(Photo Credit: Ihor Kashurin) / iStockphoto)
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