Consumer Reports released a survey that 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.
The Consumer Reports survey was released at the same time that agribusiness interests are pressuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to abandon its rules requiring organic producers to abide by strong animal welfare standards. The rules were set to go into effect in March but have been delayed. Consumer Reports urged the USDA to enact the new rules without further delay.
“Consumers expect organic farms to adhere to strong and consistent standards, including high standards for animal welfare,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, Senior Policy Analyst with Consumer Reports, testifying at a meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board in Denver today. “That includes letting chickens outdoors where they can move around freely, rather than continually cooped up indoors.”
An outdoor space that is large enough to accommodate all chickens is not currently required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) 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 address this inconsistency, and to ensure that all organic farms adhere to high standards for animal welfare, the USDA developed a new rule. Published earlier this year after nearly a decade of public participation in the organic rulemaking process, the new rule includes minimum outdoor space requirements for chickens.
Powerful agricultural interests, especially organic egg producers who raise hens in indoor confinement with no meaningful outdoor space, oppose the rule. It is unclear whether the incoming Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, will support issuing the rule once he is confirmed. Even if the rule goes into effect, Congress could revoke it under the Congressional Review Act.
“The USDA should make the organic animal welfare rule effective without further delay,” said Vallaeys. “Producers shouldn't be allowed to pick and choose which organic requirements they will meet. This new rule for organics makes clear that outdoor access for animals is not negotiable.”