One hen in North Carolina lives her life inside a dimly lit shed with only occasional access to a cramped, concrete porch; another hen in California can peck at the grass each day and take a dust bath in the sun. Two vastly different lives—but eggs from both hens can get the same important label: “USDA Organic.” Until today.
Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalizes a long-awaited rule that will give organic animals—and organic consumers—the higher level of welfare they deserve. Among many improvements, the new rule will specify minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for chickens raised for eggs and meat. No longer will a small, screened porch that only a few birds can access qualify as “access to the outdoors.” The rule also requires enrichment, like dust bathing materials for birds, and restricts certain kinds of physical alterations, like tail-docking in pigs and de-beaking of chickens and turkeys. The ASPCA has been working closely with the USDA to provide input on this rule.
Consumers, responsible farmers who provide meaningful welfare and the organic industry should celebrate this landmark victory. Since the USDA began regulating organic agriculture in 2000, consumers have expected—and paid a premium for—an idyllic version of “organic” animal welfare. But in many segments of the organic market, a grimmer reality prevails. Exploding demand for organic products and the absence of clear organic animal welfare standards have allowed the organic market to be flooded with large-scale, industrial producers who profit from the public’s desire for higher-welfare animal products while still employing the terrible practices found on typical factory farms.
This development means better lives for the 50 million animals raised under the USDA organic label, and it could not have happened without the 70,000+ ASPCA supporters who told USDA to finalize this critical rule. Thanks to you, millions of animals will finally have their day in the sun.
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