USDA Delays Ruling on Outdoor Access for Organic Egg-Laying Hens

USDA Delays Rule Forcing Farmers to Give Organic Egg-Laying Hens Outdoor Access

Earlier this month, the USDA shelved a rule that would have granted more open-air access to organic egg-laying chickens. A current loophole in organic regulations allows a gated, screened porch attached to factory farm barns to fulfill the requirement for outdoor access, something many in the industry see as a violation of the required humane treatment of organic livestock.

This is the third time the rule has been delayed in the last eight months. While the rule had made it into the Federal Register the day before President Donald Trump took office, the administration’s regulatory freeze has thus far impeded it going into effect.

At least a third of organic egg producers use these porches to fulfill their outdoor access requirement, according to the USDA; the agency claims that it would cost the industry between $8 million and $30 million to comply with the revised rule.

“We are pleased implementation of the rule has been delayed, allowing for more detailed and accurate evaluation of the economic impact of the proposed regulation,” Oscar Garrison, vice president for food safety and regulatory affairs for United Egg Producers, tells The Seattle Times.

But others are not so pleased with the delay, including Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

“Despite the time and effort already spent, the USDA now attempts to excuse itself from responsibility by vaguely referring to ‘an incorrect calculation’ used in its regulatory impact analysis that apparently necessitates endless reexamination,” he wrote earlier this month in the Wisconsin Gazette.

“The fact is that this rule has already undergone sufficient analysis, and the agency itself has already recognized that the regulatory costs associated with changing to cage-free poultry systems (which is what is holding this rule up) ‘would be categorized as a transfer of value from egg producers to egg consumers.’”

The rule has already undergone a comment period during which tens of thousands of American consumers and hundreds of organic livestock producers responded positively to it.

In September, the Organic Trade Association sued the USDA over these repeated delays.

“It’s not just the egg industry, but commodity livestock interests,” Laura Batcha, CEO and director of the OTA, tells the Seattle Times. “We believe they don’t want to see this go forward, despite the overwhelming majority that supports it.”

The USDA is set to review the rule again in May 2018.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco