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New Organic Animal Welfare Standards are Good for Farmers and Consumers

Posted: January 18, 2017

Media Contact:
Abby Youngblood, NOC: 646-525-7165; abby@nationalorganiccoalition.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Organic Animal Welfare Standards are Good for Farmers and Consumers

Washington, D.C. – January 18, 2017— Consumers who choose to buy organic eggs, poultry, and meat expect organic farmers to raise their animals in the healthiest conditions possible – to provide access to the outdoors, space to move around, and freedom to exhibit their natural behaviors. And farmers and ranchers who choose to follow organic standards expect a level playing field. It wasn’t the case until today, with the release of a new organic animal welfare rule.

 “Most organic livestock and poultry operations already adhere to high standards. But they are being undercut economically because of loopholes in the organic standards that allow a few operations to deny meaningful outdoor access to animals,” says Abby Youngblood, executive director at the National Organic Coalition.

The new Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule will level the playing field and ensure that all poultry and eggs sold as organic comply with baseline practices and principles for animal welfare and treatment. The new rules, which are available today in the federal register, represent more than a decade of work to clarify and improve animal welfare standards in organic. They incorporate input from thousands of stakeholders as well as recommendations the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a stakeholder board that advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  NOSB membership, by law, includes organic farmers, handlers, certifiers, environmental/conservation specialists, consumer representatives, and scientists.   

“Because the NOSB and organic community have consistently called for meaningful outdoor access for poultry dating back to 1998, it is disingenuous for poultry operations that do not meet these requirements to claim that they have been taken by surprise,” says Youngblood. Operations that do not currently meet the standards will have ample time - up to five years - to comply with the new standards.

Opponents of the rules claim that providing outdoor access to poultry will spread disease. In reality, scientific studies indicate that indoor confinement is a risk factor for spreading disease. It is important to remember that all existing USDA and FDA health and safety rules will remain in place once the new standards are implemented.

Opponents of the rule claim that hens will be more vulnerable to predators with the new rules. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has published statistics demonstrating that mortality rates are similar for organic and non-organic egg operations. Most organic producers already provide outdoor access and use a variety of practices to protect birds from predators such as overhead netting and electric fencing. The proposed rule is based on substantial public input, including from producers, on practices that improve the overall quality of life for birds.

Strong welfare standards are critical to preserving trust in the organic label and represent a significant step forward. 

About the National Organic Coalition:
The National Organic Coalition (NOC) is a national alliance of organizations working to provide a "Washington voice" for farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, consumers and industry members involved in organic agriculture. NOC seeks to advance organic food and agriculture and ensure a united voice for organic integrity, which means strong, enforceable, and continuously improved standards to maximize the multiple health, environmental, and economic benefits that only organic agriculture affords. The coalition works to assure that policies are fair, equitable, and encourage diversity of participation and access.

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