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Consumers Union Criticizes USDA for withdrawing animal welfare standards for food labeled organic

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture for being out of step with food consumers by  withdrawing its rule today requiring organic producers to abide by strong animal welfare standards.  The implementation of the USDA’s Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule had been repeatedly delayed by the agency and was supposed to go into effect in May.

“Consumers who buy food labeled organic expect farmers to follow strict standards to help ensure the health and well-being of animals,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, Senior Policy Analyst with Consumers Union.  “This decision means that chickens on organic farms can remain cramped inside large warehouses 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.”

Public comments were overwhelmingly in support of the rule–only 50 comments of a total of 72,000 submitted to USDA favored withdrawing it.

A Consumer Reports survey released in April 2017 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 issued a new rule in January 2017,  with requirements that improve animal welfare, such as minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for chickens.  That rule was withdrawn today.

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