The United States Department of Agriculture has officially withdrawn an Obama-era rule that would have established basic animal welfare standards for organic meat, eggs, and dairy products. The Trump Administration justified its reversal by claiming the rule “exceeds the department’s statutory authority and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.” The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, which was originally set to go into effect in March 2017, would have required that organic laying hens have access to a full square foot of space indoors. It also would have clarified exactly what qualifies as “access to the outdoors” and introduced additional regulations regarding the transportation of animals for slaughter and general animal handling.

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In making its decision, the USDA cited the recent success of the American organic food industry. “The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” USDA Marketing and Regulatory Program Undersecretary Greg Ibach said in a statement. “The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.” According to the USDA, the number of certified organic farming operations in the United States grew by seven percent in 2017, while organic sales in the United States expanded nearly $3.7 billion from 2015 to 2016, for a total of nearly $47 billion in sales in 2016.

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Despite the growing popularity of food labeled organic, the lack of clarity regarding whatis or isn’t organic can leave consumers in the dark over what exactly they are purchasing. The Trump Administration’s withdrawal of animal welfare regulations for organic products shines a light on the hazy definitions that guide the industry’s practices. One would expect that “organic” animal products are ethically sourced from animals that are raised in humane conditions. As it stands, with the rule withdrawn, “organic” simply means that the animals were provided with organic feed. For those hoping for stricter standards, state-level initiatives such as those in Vermont may offer some promise. Unfortunately, it may require a very different White House and Congress for meaningful animal welfare regulations to be put in place.

Via One Green Planet

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