Tell USDA to finalize and enforce strong organic animal welfare standards ASAP

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) Proposed Rule encompasses decades of widespread organic community debate and support to update organic standards with critical animal welfare provisions.

OLPS clarifies the production standards of avian and mammalian livestock to support consistent enforcement across producers and re-establish a strong organic label that assures consumers that USDA-certified organic livestock products meet a robust and uniform standard valuing both environmental and animal welfare. The proposed rule:

  • Clarifies living conditions, healthcare, transportation and slaughter practices to support animal welfare for mammalian livestock species.
  • Establishes poultry indoor and outdoor space requirements and stocking density limits, and clarifies that enclosed porches are not considered outdoor spaces.

Current USDA organic standards already require outdoor access and appropriate living conditions for poultry and livestock that allow animals to express their natural instincts. The majority of organic livestock farmers uphold these standards; however, these regulations have not been consistently enforced and some certifiers have allowed large poultry companies to use narrow, enclosed porches instead of true outdoor access. This inequitable enforcement and interpretation has created an unfair playing field for organic livestock farmers and has undermined consumers' confidence in the organic label.  OLPS clarifies the standards for animal living conditions to require true outdoor access and room to express natural instincts for all poultry operations.

USDA has proposed two possible implementation periods (5 years vs 15 years) for certified egg-producing operations to meet the outdoor space requirements for laying hens. These stronger standards are long overdue and USDA needs to set a faster timeline for when organic operations need to meet these standards. Take action now to 1) demonstrate widespread industry and consumer support for the proposed rule and 2) tell USDA to set a more aggressive implementation time of 3 years (letting them know that the 15-year implementation plan is NOT viable).

What’s at Stake?

Health and competitiveness of family farms inconsistent animal welfare standards for organic chickens create an unlevel playing field for organic farmers already providing true outdoor access.

Advancement of organic animal welfare 75% of Americans are either very or somewhat concerned about the treatment of animals by the meat and dairy industry.

Consumer trust and integrity of the organic label – 89% of Americans say the USDA should periodically review and update the organic standards to keep pace with new science and consumer expectations.

Sponsored by

To: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
From: [Your Name]

Organic farmers need organic standards to meet consumer expectations, and the OLPS proposed rule (Docket No. AMS-NOP-21-0073) fixes loopholes that have hurt farmers and undermined organic consumers' confidence in the organic label. Many organic farmers have filled in the gaps by taking on additional animal welfare certifications, which creates an undue burden that should be covered by existing organic standards.

We, the undersigned believe that the organic standards already require that livestock have the ability to express natural behaviors and require daily outdoor access, and a strong, enforceable OLPS final rule is needed to provide clear standards, close loopholes, and provide certifiers and farms with regulations that allow for consistent interpretation, implementation, and enforcement.

FAST IMPLEMENTATION: The majority of organic poultry and livestock farmers already comply with OLPS standards. A fast OLPS implementation timeline is needed. The proposed 15-year implementation is unviable and will cause continued significant economic harm to the many organic farmers who are already meeting strong animal welfare standards. Organic farmers are familiar with a three-year transition period and we believe this same timeline for OLPS implementation would fairly allow large-scale poultry operations to comply or decide to drop their voluntary organic certification.

REAL OUTDOOR ACCESS: We support requiring poultry to have real access to outdoor space with sufficient, consistent, and diet-appropriate vegetative coverage because this makes them healthier and allows them to express their natural instincts. Housing must accommodate enough pasture for rotation and provide a sufficient number of doors and sizes to encourage daily outdoor activity for the flock.

CLEAR REQUIREMENTS: We support animal handling and modification requirements for organic producers that match the highest animal welfare standards so that organic can return to being the gold standard and organic farmers are not pressured to hold multiple certifications.

Overall, clarity of standards is crucial, and leaving vague references without guidance will lead to inconsistent implementation by certifiers and farms. We encourage the USDA National Organic Program to keep organic standards high, clearly written, and implement them quickly.