The USDA announced last week its intention to withdraw humane regulations for livestock raised to be sold as organic meat. The original regulations, dubbed the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP), were signed by the Obama administration and were set to take effect in March after having been delayed three times.
The OLPP would have governed animals' access to outdoor space, transportation regulations, and humane slaughter rules. Poultry, for example, would have been required to be housed in spaces big enough for birds to engage in natural behaviors, and larger livestock would have been required to have year-round outdoor access.
Proponents of the regulations note that many people who purchase organic meat assume that these products already fulfill these requirements.
“Many consumers expect that products bearing the ‘USDA Organic’ label comes from a farm with higher animal welfare standards,” notes Delaware Online.
The USDA ultimately declined to pass the regulations, noting that they exceed the agency’s authority under the Organic Food Production Act. The Agency has also expressed its concern that the rules would stunt the growth of the organic industry: USDA officials expressed in a statement their worries that the regulations "may hamper market-driven innovation and evolution and impose unnecessary regulatory burdens."
The regulations notably make it easier for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to acquire organic certification: several factory farms of this kind have recently been exposed by the Washington Post, including Aurora Organic Dairy, one of the nation’s largest organic dairies, which the Post accused of avoiding granting its dairy cows access to pasture for grazing.
“This is a very disappointing decision by USDA, both for American family farmers and for consumers,” says National Farmers Union Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Communications Rob Larew. “We urge USDA to find a solution that provides certainty to family organic producers and integrity to the organic label. Family farmers, ranchers, and consumers all benefit from thorough, accurate and consistent food labeling.”
The rule will be published in the Federal Register next week, at which point it will be subject to a thirty-day public comment period.
Note: This article has been modified to account for the fact that the USDA investigation into Aurora has since found that the dairy is in compliance with organic regulations. The Post and organic watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute have nevertheless called the Agency out for lack of transparency with regards to this matter.
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