When most Americans think about organic meat or eggs, they picture animals on small farms, allowed to root in the soil, feel sun on their backs, and engage in their natural behaviors. What they don’t picture is tens of thousands of hens crammed into massive sheds with no access to soil and extremely limited outdoor access.
Unfortunately, the USDA stamped its seal of approval on the latter scenario by refusing to implement its own advisory board’s animal welfare recommendations, which would have created a level playing field for the hundreds of small organic farms that were the basis for the standards. These recommendations would not have required “good” conditions, but they would have set a reasonable floor by requiring improvements from the five massive “organic” egg farms that provide the worst hen welfare.
The USDA’s decision doesn’t just violate our moral intuitions and the expectations of organic consumers; it also violates the Department’s legal mandate in at least two distinct ways.
First, USDA is statutorily required “to establish national [organic guidelines that] meet a consistent standard.” In 2005 and again in 2010, USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that animal welfare standards were applied inconsistently, in violation of the Act’s legal requirement that USDA ensure “that [organic] products meet consistent, uniform standards.”