In what the Humane Society of the United States is calling a game-changer for the welfare of livestock and farm animals across the country, the Obama administration enacted a rule today that establishes protections for farm animals raised under the "organic" label.
Under the new criteria, animal husbandry, management, and housing will dramatically improve for organic-raised animals. Cattle will no longer have their tails docked (which generally occurs without anesthesia or pain medicine), animals cannot be tightly confined to small crates and cages, and minimum amounts of indoor and outdoor space will be established for the chickens whose eggs we eat. The rule also sets standards for the transportation of sick animals and requires that sufficient outdoor access for poultry be provided on a daily basis.
You, like most people, probably believe that if you buy meat with an organic label, the animals are guaranteed to be treated more humanely than their non-organic counterparts. But standards to date have been inconsistent and not always aligned with those recommended by animal-welfare advocates. The new ruling issued by the US Department of Agriculture will work to negate said inconsistencies by implementing key welfare and certification standards across the board. In addition to banning certain practices like de-beaking, which have been deemed to inflict unnecessary pain, organically raised livestock will now also be guaranteed enough space to stand up, turn around, and lie down (which, believe it or not, was not a requirement before the ruling).
Paul Shapiro, vice president of policy at HSUS, told MUNCHIES "These new standards will better align the reality of the organic program with consumer expectations about what the organic seal means. Prohibiting practices like debeaking and tail-docking, and clearly defining real outdoor access as mandatory are important improvements that we applaud."
Additionally, the ASPCA notes: "This historic move by the USDA marks the first comprehensive set of regulations governing the on-farm treatment of animals ever issued by the federal government.The new Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule addresses the wide disparity between consumers' expectations regarding the quality of animal welfare under the organic label and the reality of what USDA previously required."
It may have taken eight years to do so, but it looks as though the USDA and the Obama administration have finally addressed the disparity many pointed out in "organic" labeling and the practices used to produce organic goods. That's good news for animals and humans alike.