Better Conditions for Organic Farmed Animals Are Almost a Reality

Organically raised farm animals are getting a much-needed helping hand from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A newly proposed rule will mandate better standards of living and treatment than they’ve ever had before. Even better, you can help make it happen.

“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 Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) said in a press release.

If you buy organic meat, eggs or milk, you probably believe farmers treat those animals a heck of a lot better than their conventionally farmed counterparts. In fact, that may be a big reason you chose to pay more for organic food. Unfortunately, right now “organic” does not necessarily mean more humane.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The lack of a uniform set of standards regarding the raising, transport and slaughter of organically raised animals has been a longstanding problem.

Consumers “expect organic livestock to spend a considerable amount of their life outside during appropriate weather conditions, so we proposed to codify that in a measurable way,” USDA organic program deputy administrator Miles McEvoy told the Wall Street Journal.

“The lack of specific requirements for animal welfare has resulted in great variability in the level of animal care provided by organic producers,” AWI noted. “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 would ensure you get the animal welfare standards you thought you’d been paying for all along when you buy something labeled “USDA Organic.” The USDA says the proposed new requirements are based on “extensive input” from the organic community and stakeholders about the production and handling of organic livestock.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Highlights include:

  • Year-round access to the outdoors, soil, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water and direct sunlight as suitable to each species (formerly, access to outdoor soil areas was not required).
  • Unencumbered access to the outdoors at all times unless temporary confinement is justified for a reason described in the regulations, such as nighttime predator protection.
  • Sick, injured, weak, disabled, blind and lame animals must not be transported for sale or slaughter; they must receive medical care or be euthanized.
  • All surgical procedures must be done in a way “to minimize pain, stress and suffering, with the use of appropriate and allowed anesthetics, analgesics, and sedatives.”
  • Housing and living conditions must “allow animals to freely exercise their natural behaviors,” which differ from species to species.
  • Animals must be able “to lie down, stand up, and fully stretch their libs without touching other animals or the sides of the shelter.”
  • For pigs, no tooth clipping or tail docking. One exception: if there’s a documented animal welfare need to do so and all other alternative steps to prevent harm have failed. If teeth must be clipped, they can go no lower than the top third of each needle tooth.
  • For poultry, no de-beaking (removal of more than beak tip), de-snooding, caponization (poultry castration), dubbing (removal of poultry combs and wattles), toe trimming, beak trimming after 10 days of age, or molting/forced molting.
  • For cattle, no wattling (separation of skin from connective tissue on dewlap, neck or shoulders), no face branding.
  • For sheep, no mulesing (removal of 2 to 4 inches of buttocks skin from anus to hock).
  • No euthanasia by suffocation, blows to the head with a blunt instrument, use of equipment that crushes the neck.
  • Livestock trailers, shipping containers and other transport methods must provide adequate and season appropriate ventilation to protect animals from cold and heat stresses.

Every one of these changes to current law will make a real difference for millions of organically raised cows, chickens, turkeys, sheep and pigs. Maybe someday we’ll even see these improvements applied to all poultry and livestock. That’s a goal to keep pushing for — but this one is within reach right now.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Not everyone will be in favor of these new requirements. The USDA estimates implementing these changes will cost farmers between $9.5 million to $24.1 million per year, annualized over 13 years. That fact won’t make them happy. Some may submit comments asserting the current rules are good enough. We know they’re not, though, and we should tell the USDA so.

You Can Help Get This Law Enacted

These changes are not yet law. The USDA will accept public comment on this proposed rule for 60 days. If you want to help convince the agency to put this rule into effect, the USDA needs to hear from you. Care2 will help you do that.

Sign this petition and we’ll make sure it gets to Paul Lewis, Ph.D., the USDA’s Director of Standards Division, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. This is an important move in the right direction for farmed animal welfare. You can help get it to the finish line.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

85 comments

Lesa D
Past Member 5 months ago

#567 petition signed...

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Lesa D
Past Member 5 months ago

thank you Susan...

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Richard B
Past Member 5 months ago

thank you

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Renata B
Renata B5 months ago

For all those who think that these animals die in a second, well. just get informed about what happens. There are books and there is the internet. And they are babies when they die.

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Renata B
Renata B5 months ago

Mary B: how silly of me who thought that dinosaurs died millennia ago! You don't even have the courage to show your page: interesting as well. Anyway, I don't know if the news ever arrived to you but more and more farmers are turning vegan all over the world (and for ethical reasons). And I don't even discuss your absolute disregard for the future of our planet but - wait a moment - probably you don't believe in climate change. You must have voted for Trump: feel proud of it, very proud indeed.

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Renata B
Renata B5 months ago

Agree that reality of very different from the green pastures shown in publicity and improving the (appalling) conditions of these animals can only be good. But the fact remains that they all end up in the same type of transportation, they all end up in the same hell on earth that slaughter houses are and they all die in their infancy where their lives (that can span sometimes up to 20 years) are only counted in months and sometimes in days.

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Peggy B
Peggy B5 months ago

Noted

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Tanya W
Tanya W5 months ago

Respect animals always.

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Tanya W
Tanya W5 months ago

Petition is closed

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JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris5 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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