The National Organic Standards Board voted unanimously on Friday to recommend that regulations designed to hold organic meat and poultry producers to higher animal welfare standards be enacted immediately, the Organic Trade Association reported on Twitter.
In order to receive organic certification, the rule requires animals to be able to exhibit natural behavior, such as the ability to sit, walk, stretch and stand without touching other animals or the sides of their pen, as well as having free and clear access to the outside. The NOSB, which provides recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has proposed that the rule should become effective on May 19.
- Most organic egg producers and organic brands already meet the requirements, according to testimony given to the NOSB, but the National Pork Producers Council has vowed to work with Trump and Congress to repeal the regulation.
The recommendation has been a long time coming, with some NOSB proposals for the rule dating back to 1994. Following the unanimous recommendation from the NOSB in 2011, the USDA first proposed the changes in April last year, when Barack Obama was president. It prompted 6,711 comments on the issue.
A new Consumer Reports survey suggests the rule has overwhelming consumer support, with 86% of those who buy organic food saying they strongly support holding organic producers to higher animal welfare standards. Eighty-three percent of consumers said it was important that organic eggs come from hens that are able to go outdoors. The USDA under Obama has said boosting these standards was likely to increase trust in the organic seal.
Even though the rule has faced backlash from some producers, food manufacturers are taking note of consumer demand for humane treatment of animals. The latest annual report from the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare found nearly three-quarters (73%) of brands assessed had a formal animal welfare policy in place, up from 46% in 2012. However, nearly 66% of companies had not implemented a strong system for monitoring animal welfare.
It’s an increasingly important issue, as consumers tend to support brands known to have humane animal welfare standards, and are quick to boycott those that don’t.
Whether the Trump administration's USDA will green light the rule remains to be seen. The department still doesn't have a permanent leader, with a confirmation vote on nominee Sonny Perdue scheduled for Monday evening. Without a secretary in place, big policy decisions have been put on hold.
While USDA generally follows the recommendations of the NOSB, it is not bound to them. Trump's administration, which favors less regulation overall, may choose to cancel this one through another executive order. At the time the regulation was published, in a written statement National Pork Producers Council President John Weber called these rules "precisely the type of executive branch overreach that Congress will reign in through regulatory reform."