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USDA Withdraws Rule To Strengthen Organic Standards For Poultry, Animal Welfare

Layers walk around by the "egg mobile" at the Papineau Family Farm in Highgate.
Peter Hirschfeld
The USDA has withdrawn a rule that would have required organic poultry producers, including egg producers, to allow their birds access to the outdoors.

A rule designed to insure poultry and their eggs sold under the organic label are from birds raised under healthy living conditions, including access to outdoors, has been withdrawn by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Vermont’s organic farming association says the move is a step backwards for farmers and consumers.

A key part of the rule was to ban the use of so-called “porches” in organic poultry operations. These allow birds to get some fresh air outside their houses, but not full access to the outdoors.

Nicole Dehne, certification director for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-Vt), says organic farmers and the consumers who support them across the country pushed hard for the rule change.

“Watching all that work go down the tubes, so to speak, is very disappointing," says Dehne. "[It] is not a good move for farmers, for the integrity of the label and for consumers, who also want to see, I think, organic farmers improve their practices."

Dehne says while NOFA-Vt. is disappointed in the decision, the organization still supports the organic label.

"People think organic regulations are set. But that’s actually not true, every material that [organic] farmers use [has] to be re-reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board, so it’s a dynamic process,” she said. “One of the premises of the organic movement was that there be continual improvement.”

USDA said it withdrew the rule because it exceeded its legal authority.

The national Organic Trade Association supports the rule, and has gone to court to challenge the decision.

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