For the dignity of the birds...

Tomorrow, Friday, June 9th, commenting will close on the USDA’s National Organic Program’s new set of rules referred to as the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP). If you have been following the new revamping of the organic standards you might be experiencing deja vu for it was just this time last year that the Obama USDA was accepting comments for the OLPP. In the final days of the Obama administration the OLPP were finalized and set to go into practice in May 2017.  As the Trump administration’s modus operandi has been to undo anything the Obama administration had done; they have temporarily delayed the implementation of these standards and have offered them up to public comment with the potential to delay them indefinitely. This of course is to be expected but it is not to be tolerated.

In the past decade the organic food market has grown to reach, in 2014, a $39.7 billion dollar force and with this the term organic has become more vague and more open to interpretation by big Ag eager to get a slice of this organic moneyed pie. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service estimates that 50% of organic eggs are laid by hens who have never been outdoors. Organic egg cartons are covered with meaningless adjectives like “free range”, “natural” and “happy” that create an illusion of the barefooted Sally Henny Penny scratching for worms in the pasture but in fact are not subject to any standard of definition.

Obama’s USDA aimed to change that by narrowing the definition for the organic label in their National Organic Program standards. These standards were aimed -mostly- at poultry practices but encompassed a broad spectrum of animal welfare from birth to slaughter. One such proposed change would be to require more indoor and outdoor space per bird and a requirement of at least 50% soil coverage on any outdoor bird space. The current lax organic standards allow for poultry producers to provide ‘outdoor’ space in the form of ‘porches’ that allow for the bird to see neither sky nor ground and thus stretch the definition of ‘outdoors’.

Detractors from the NOP site fear of Avian Flu outbreaks as their primary concern against such luxuries as the outdoors. The 2015 Avian Flu outbreak cost the poultry industry some $3.3 billion in losses. While the fear of another outbreak is understandable it has nothing to do with outdoor access; all of the operations that suffered from the 2015 outbreak were confinement operations with their birds laying, and suffering, inside.

More frankly opposition to the OLPP  is about money and the producers that are resistant to these proposed changes are motivated by economic concerns. The buildings currently housing organic laying hens, for example,  would need to be modified and in some cases rebuilt. This is a cost the producers could pass along to the consumer, but they are reluctant for the risk and would rather continue to keep animals in gross confinement.

The new OLPP rules have been a decade in the making and will bring more clarity and enforceable standards to the organic label. The new administration has just 2 more days of the comment period before they decide what action to take on the standards. Go, and comment. Lend your voice.  Use these great talking points if you need inspiration.  Tell them, on behalf of all of the animals that give us our food, that we insist on these standards that they are good for us, for the animals and for our environment.


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