USDA withdraws welfare rules for animals certified ‘organic’

The Trump administration is rolling back Obama-era rules for how animals should be treated if their meat is going to be sold as “certified organic.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its plan to withdraw the final rules, which were originally set to take effect on March 20 after having been delayed three times.

USDA said the rules exceed the agency’s statutory authority under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to issue animal welfare regulations. The agency called the rules, which govern an animal’s access to outdoor space, transportation and slaughter, among other things, “broadly prescriptive.”

Under the rules, producers and handlers participating in the National Organic Program stipulate that poultry must be housed in spaces that are big enough for the birds to move freely, stretch their wings, stand normally and engage in natural behaviors.

Livestock, meanwhile, must be provided access to an outdoor space year-round and be kept in indoor pens that are sufficiently large, solidly built and comfortable so that the animals are kept clean, dry and free of lesions.

USDA said it’s concerned the rules will stunt innovation and growth of the organic industry, which reached $47 billion in sales in 2016, according to figures from the Organic Trade Association.

The Center for Food Safety slammed the USDA for walking back needed clarity on organic animal care.

“In particular, the rules require all animals to have real access to the outdoors, which must include contact with soil and vegetation, and outline minimum spacing requirements for poultry,” Cameron Harsh, the group’s senior manager for organic and animal policy, said in a statement.

“This is, in fact, what consumers already expect from the organic poultry and eggs they buy in stores. But the largest poultry producers have so far been able to consider small, cement, fenced-in areas as outdoor access and have not been required to abide by specific spacing limitations.”

The public has 30 days to comment on USDA’s proposal to withdraw the rule.


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