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Consumers Union criticizes USDA for delaying animal welfare standards for food labeled organic

Rule requiring outdoor space was set to go into effect on November 14 

November 9, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture today for once again delaying the implementation of its rule requiring organic producers to abide by strong animal welfare standards.   The USDA’s Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule was originally set to go into effect in March but was delayed earlier this year until November 14.  Now the agency has decided to put off the implementation even further until May 14, 2018.

“There is absolutely no justification for delaying these standards,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, Senior Policy Analyst with Consumers Union.  “Consumers who buy organic expect farmers to follow strict standards, including rules to help ensure the health and well-being of animals.  But without this rule, consumers will have no way of knowing if eggs or chicken labeled organic come from birds that were able to roam outside or whether their only outdoor access was a tiny porch.”

A Consumer Reports survey released in April found that the vast majority — 86 percent — of consumers who often or always buy organic food say it’s highly important that animals used to produce these foods are raised on farms with high standards for animal welfare. The survey found that 83 percent of these consumers think it’s highly important that organic eggs come from hens that were able to go outdoors, and have enough space to move around freely.

An outdoor space that is large enough to accommodate all chickens is not currently required by the USDA’s standards for organic producers.  The organic standards only state that farmers have to provide animals with “access to the outdoors,” and some large-scale producers meet this requirement with a small, entirely enclosed, concrete or dirt-covered porch.  To ensure that all organic farms adhere to higher standards, the USDA developed a new rule with requirements that improve animal welfare, such as minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for chickens.

“The USDA has spent more than a decade studying this issue and developing this rule, which should be implemented without further delay” said Vallaeys.  “This decision means that chickens on organic farms can remain cramped indoors with tens of thousands of other birds with only token access to the outdoors.  This is not what consumers expect when they buy organic eggs and chicken.”

Contact:  Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537 (cell) or 415-431-6747, ext 7606 (office)