Leaders of the organic food movement have appealed to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to reinstate the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule issued in January 2017 and withdrawn this past December. The rule codifies certain animal welfare practices to be followed by organic livestock farmers, specifically with regards to outdoor access, transport, and humane slaughter.
More than two-dozen industry leaders signed an open letter to Perdue, which was reprinted in Tuesday’s Washington Post as a full-page advertisement with the title, “If you eat food, you should read this.”
“Organic farmers have pioneered new practices to enhance animal welfare because consumers demand it and because it makes farms more resilient and profitable,” reads the letter, signed by groups including Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, Whole Foods Market, and Maple Hill Creamery. “Eliminating the rule not only fails to acknowledge innovation in the organic farming sector and provide fair and transparent rules, it also undermines the faith people have in how organic agriculture is governed.”
The groups blame political interference and the influence of industrial agriculture on the decision to withdraw the rule, an announcement the USDA justified by claiming that the regulation exceeded the Agency’s authority under the Organic Food Production Act. The USDA also expressed concern that the rule would stunt the growth of the $43 billion organic food industry.
The rule would have taken effect in March, after already having been delayed three times.
“This is a clear case where USDA replaces established process with the dictate of industrial livestock to stop any animal welfare rules living at USDA—purely political and against organic,” George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, who convened the cosigners, said in a press release.
The OLPP was developed over the course of twenty years and had bipartisan support. It clarifies animal welfare rules in the organic regulations, including the requirement to give egg-laying hens “access to the outdoors,” a rule that is often fulfilled by enclosed, screened-in porches attached to chicken barns. Other animal welfare concerns covered by the rule include tail docking of cows and beak trimming on birds.
The USDA’s withdrawal of the OLPP was open to public comment until Thursday.
According to a 2014 survey conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, nearly 70 percent of consumers believe that certified organic farms already provide access to the outdoors and “significantly” more space to their animals than conventional farms.
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