Matt’s Blog: Finally! Long-Delayed Federal Rule on Farm Animal Welfare Standards in Organic Program

November 8, 2023

two small pink pigs in grass with one eating the other looking at the camera

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

Good news on the farm animal welfare front: Following more than 10 years of dedicated advocacy from farmers, consumer protection organizations, and animal welfare groups, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalized the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) Rule, closing loopholes in the National Organic Program that put millions of animals at risk. 

The new requirements—which are similar to a 2017 rule that the Trump administration withdrew in 2018—improve protections for hundreds of millions of animals raised annually on organic farms, including prohibitions on cruel practices such as debeaking birds, docking the tails of pigs and putting mother pigs in gestation crates, as well as clarifying that enclosed, screened-in porches do not qualify as outdoor access.

The ASPCA and our supporters were instrumental in getting the final rule across the finish line. Since the first Organic animal welfare rule was proposed in 2016, ASPCA advocates collectively submitted over 100,000 comments in support of a strong final rule. 

In 2022, the ASPCA partnered with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) to survey organic-product consumers [PDF], finding that they were still confused about outdoor access requirements and wanted the federal government to better align the National Organic Program with consumer expectations. These findings were echoed in organizational comments submitted by the ASPCA and AWI and co-signed by more than a dozen other animal, farmer, and environmental advocacy groups. The USDA cited these survey findings in its final rule, using them to highlight the pressing need for consistent enforcement of higher animal welfare standards.

As part of the rule, the USDA is allowing organic broiler and laying hen producers five years to comply with the new indoor and outdoor space requirements, while all other producers have one year to comply with the rest of the new animal welfare standards. The progress these producers make over the next five years will be critical in ensuring the National Organic Program makes meaningful strides toward producing the results the OLPS Rule was intended to create: higher welfare practices and increased transparency on organic farms. 

These results will help more farm animals avoid suffering and enable welfare-conscious consumers to make more informed choices about the farming systems they’re supporting—decisions that can have a tremendous influence on American food industry practices.

We look forward to quick implementation of the new rule and the substantial benefits it will finally bring to animals, committed organic farmers, and consumers.

I invite you to join our ASPCA Advocacy Brigade to learn more about and take action on other pending animal welfare bills and regulations like this one.