USDA Announces it is Reinstating Welfare Standards for Animals on Organic Farms

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Thursday that it is going to reinstate animal welfare standards for farms that produce organic meat. These standards were withdrawn during President Donald Trump’s administration and a lawsuit was filed alleging that the lack of these requirements harmed the meaning of an organic label. 

“We’re thrilled the Biden administration will reissue the organics rule and we urge them to do so as soon as possible to improve the lives of millions of farm animals,” said Peter Brandt, managing attorney for Farm Animals at The Humane Society of the United States, a plaintiff in the case in a press release. “Like laws in California and many other states, the rule ensured that pigs, chickens, and other farm animals could not be tightly confined, and it closed a loophole that allowed large poultry companies to skirt the law by using skimpy screened-in porches to satisfy outdoor access requirements.”

In a statement, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack explained that the department is going to reconsider the Trump Administration’s interpretation of the Organic Foods Production Act, specifically that under the act the USDA cannot regulate through the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule.

Vilsack said in the statement, “I have directed the National Organic Program to begin a rulemaking to address this statutory interpretation and to include a proposal to disallow the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production over time and on other topics that were the subject of the OLPP final rule. We anticipate sending the proposed rule to (the Offic within six to nine months from the date of the remand. We look forward to receiving public comments on those topics and, after reviewing the comments, USDA will publish a final rule.”

The Center for Food Safety called this announcement “a victory for organic farmers, advocates, and animal welfare.” The group noted that if the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule is enforced organic chickens will have more outdoor access, and other similar animal welfare steps will be taken. The group argued that by eliminating the rule, the Trump Administration reversed the USDA’s policy positions which had been held since organic standards began, and falsely claimed that the regulations were costly. 

“After 4 years of hard-fought litigation, the Biden administration is recognizing that the Trump withdrawal decision was inconsistent with organic standards and principles. This is a major victory for all those who care about a meaningful organic label. … Finally, USDA will close the loophole allowing factory farms to produce ‘organic’ eggs and chicken, and level the playing field for real organic farmers already providing high welfare to their animals.” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety. 

The Center is also one of the plaintiffs in the Northern District of California lawsuit arguing in favor of the welfare standards.  Proceedings in the lawsuit have been stayed since February.