Strengthen Animal Welfare in Organics
Submit your comments to the National Organic Standards Board
Due October 19, 2009 -- 11:59 P.M.
Current organic standards lack strong language to address animal welfare on farms; as a result, factory farms are producing certified organic meat, eggs and milk. Some poultry operations, for example, house tens of thousands of chickens in buildings with tiny concrete porches -- so small that they often accommodate less than 1% of the building's chickens, and are often accessible by one single small door in the corner of the house -- and that supposedly counts as legally required "access to the outdoors."
This is just one example of how the current organic standards do not adequately address animal welfare.
While factory farm livestock producers have profited from the weak organic rules, the majority of family-scale organic farms -- ethical producers who are true to organic principles -- have been faced with resulting unfair economic competition in the marketplace.
The Livestock Committee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the citizen expert panel that recommends changes to the organic standards, appropriately decided to act on the gaping inadequacy in the regulations. They developed a set of recommendations to improve animal welfare through stronger standards. They plan to offer these recommendations to the full NOSB board for a vote at their November meeting in Washington, D.C.
The Cornucopia Institute supports their initiative. We agree with the NOSB's Livestock Committee that animal welfare is a basic principle of organic production, and that stronger regulation is needed. Industrial-scale producers -- especially in dairy and poultry -- have taken advantage of the vagueness of the rules for too long. Some industrial-style dairies are milking as many as 7200 cows.
But while stronger animal welfare regulations are long overdue, the recommendations as currently written contain weaknesses that could result in unnecessary loopholes for factory farm producers. Some of these weaknesses are identified below.
Since animal welfare regulations will affect all organic livestock producers, we believe that the Livestock Committee should invite and consider input from all stakeholders before sending final recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture.
We encourage you to read the recommendations and submit comments (instructions below). In your comments, please urge the NOSB to either hold off on voting on final recommendations until all stakeholders have been invited to comment, and these comments have been reviewed, considered, and incorporated where appropriate, or to secure a commitment from USDA leadership that a draft rule will not be published until adequate input from the public has been gathered.
Needless to say, factory farm operators will fight any recommendations that will benefit animal welfare at the expense of their large-scale production model and profits. They will likely use the usual arguments -- that animals are safer inside buildings where they are protected from predators, that animals are better off inside where they are sheltered from diseases and parasites carried by wildlife, that food safety is better controlled when animals are continually confined, etc. Therefore, it is important to let the NOSB know that you support stronger animal welfare regulations that are true to organic principles.
To take action, follow the easy steps outlined on our website: http://www.cornucopia.org, or contact us.