Animal welfare groups push changes to USDA organics rules

Chickens
Animal welfare groups are speaking out about new USDA rules for organic meat.

In April, the USDA released new draft rules dictating how animals must be treated in order for meat from them to be labeled “certified organic.” Now the Humane Society, ASPCA and a dozen other advocacy groups are speaking out--on one hand praising the agency for clarifying what, exactly, qualifies as organic, but at the same time pressing for even more to be done.

“Under the proposed rule, animals raised organically will have enrichments, more meaningful outdoor access, and the opportunity to live more natural lives,” the members of the coalition said in a joint statement released by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). Some of the new requirements under the rule would include giving birds enough room to engage in natural behaviors and allowing poultry and livestock to have access to outdoor spaces without roofs.

On July 6, the AWI and other members of its coalition sent a letter to the USDA responding to critics of the proposed rules, who say that giving chickens and turkeys access to the outdoors increases their risk of catching the highly pathogenic form of avian flu that wiped out commercial flocks in several states last year. The coalition pointed out that the outbreak mostly affected indoor poultry operations, however, and that the chief veterinary officer of the U.S., John Clifford, has stated publicly that the transmission of avian flu is not influenced by whether the birds are kept outside or not.

The coalition also requested six additions to the new list of rules for organics producers. For example, they are asking that all birds be given 8 hours of continuous darkness, which they say improves their wellbeing, and that farmers provide a minimum amount of both indoor and outdoor space for pigs. They are also requesting that the rules require certain humane practices for de-horning and euthanasia.

Such changes would “increase both animal welfare and uniformity and bring the standards more in line with consumer expectations,” the coalition wrote.

The groups submitted their recommendations as part of a public comment period on the new rules, which ends July 13.

- here’s the release
- read the coalition’s full statement here
- access the USDA’s proposed organics rules here

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