Organic livestock and poultry producers must now follow more stringent animal welfare regulations.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently finalized a specific set of animal welfare standards for animals raised on organic farms. The comprehensive set of regulations marks the first time a government agency has regulated the on-farm treatment of animals.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, consumer demand for organically produced food products has continued to show double-digit growth. While the USDA does not have official statistics available, industry sources indicated that US sales of organic products were an estimated $28.4 billion in 2012. This accounted for over 4% of total food sales in the country. Organic food sales were forecasted to reach $35 billion in 2014.
Consumption of organic food products has shifted gradually from a lifestyle choice for a small number of American consumers to something the majority of people in the country engage in occasionally. Consumers tend to prefer organically produced food due to concerns about their health, the environment, and animal welfare. Consumers have also been willing to pay a premium price for organic products.
The finalized regulations focus on improvements to animal welfare in order to meet consumers’ expectations of what the “organic” label indicates. The regulations also support the creation of a level playing field for independent organic farmers who have already been holding themselves to higher-than-required standards. Producers have 1 full year to comply with the majority of the new requirements.
In response to the finalization of the new set of rules, the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has commended the UDSA for taking a stand and raising animal welfare standards. The ASPCA has been instrumental in helping this new set of regulations move forward, along with 13 other consumer advocacy, health, environmental, and animal-protection organizations.
Currently, almost 10 billion land animals are raised for food in the US every year. The majority do not exist within organic farms but live in industrial food production facilities. Deborah Press, director of ASPCA Regulatory Affairs said, “For more than a decade many large-scale organic producers have profited from the organic label's good reputation, charging premium prices while subjecting animals to factory farm-like conditions. The ASPCA and its 2.5 million supporters look forward to seeing the rule implemented in the new administration."