With produce, the idea of “organic” seems pretty straightforward: Fruits and vegetables are grown naturally, the way Mother Nature and hippies intended. But what about when it comes to raising livestock for meat, eggs and other animal-based products? Up until now, the USDA has defined “organic” primarily by what went into these animals’ bodies: things like feed and antibiotics. But now, new rules from the government agency are also setting standards for how animals must be treated to meet the USDA’s official “organic” designation.
The new 212-page document, published today, amends “the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions; and expanding and clarifying existing requirements covering livestock care and production practices and mammalian living conditions,” as the rule states in its summary. The vast majority of these new regulations are set to be implemented by March 20, 2018.
For those of you who don’t feel like reading a 212-page government document (you can all put down your hands now), the USDA has even done us the favor of boiling the whole thing down into a handy infographic. Some of those highlights include “outside time for all species when temperatures are between 40 – 90 degrees,” poultry houses “ensure ready outdoor access for all birds,” and “group housing required for swine.” So the next time you eat organic bacon, you will know the pig behind it was never lonely.
In a blog post, the USDA states, “The rule strengthens the organic standards, and ensures that all organic animals live in pasture based systems utilizing production practices that support their well-being and natural behavior. It’s an important step that will strengthen consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal and ensure that organic agriculture continues to provide economic opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and businesses across the country.” However, the agency also points out, “Most organic livestock and poultry producers already comply with the new requirements,” which the USDA writes was “based on extensive input from the organic community and stakeholders.”
However, tomorrow is another day – Inauguration Day – and as Consumerist reports, there’s already talk from opposition groups like the National Pork Producers Council about trying to get the new administration to ax these latest standards. So as has always been the case, if you care about animal wellbeing, it never hurts to do your own due diligence.