President Trump just demonstrated that his regard for the welfare of animals is just about as low as his regard for the welfare of other human beings. That’s the message he’s sending with the news that his Department of Agriculture is changing the existing rules regarding organic livestock.
The new rules, issued yesterday, eliminated the necessity to treat organically raised animals more humanely than animals raised in conventional farming. This is a reversal of the policies developed during the Obama administration that would have required organic farms to guarantee their animals minimum amounts of space, light, and outdoor access.
The rule change has organic farmers and consumers of organic food up in arms over the government relaxation of the standards for the food they produce and eat. Since the Agriculture Department is the agency responsible for certifying and labeling food as “USDA Organic”, it means that people with strong feelings about animal welfare won’t be able to assume that because the meat or eggs they buy are labeled as organic that the animals they were sourced from were treated in a humane fashion.
Egg production is prime example of how the rule changes will affect organic farmers and the people that eat the food they produce. When it was discovered during the Obama administration that industrial farms were producing “organic” eggs at farms with chicken houses holding thousands of hens in cramped quarters, the USDA started developing regulations mandating minimum standards for outdoor access in organic egg production.
Smaller organic farmers, those who have been dedicated to producing wholesome healthy food since the inception of the organic industry, actually wanted government regulations in this case, since it would create a standard level playing field that even larger corporate farms trying to break into a growing niche of the food business would have to follow.
Instead, the corporate farms lobbied the Trump administration to drop the regulations and the result is that consumers will have no way of knowing whether their eggs come from chickens that have been squished together in tiny cages or were free to wander around a farmyard.
According to an article in The Washington Post, ethical organic farmers are furious about Trump’s new USDA regulatory repeal:
“This decision “is going to be destructive to the whole organic field,” said Jesse Laflamme, co-owner and chief executive at Pete and Gerry’s Organics, an egg company that requires farmers to meet higher standards. “What’s so upsetting is that there is such a gap between what organic consumers expect and what these factory farms are producing.”
Besides the organic farmers and the Organic Trade Association, animal rights activists and consumer groups are upset by the move as well. When the rules were initially proposed during the Obama era of the USDA, they received over 47,000 comments, only 28 of which opposed the standards.
Opponents of the change blame large corporate farming companies who love getting the higher prices that organic food garners, without having to go to the expense of upholding the standards that earn that designation.
“The current administration is doing a tremendous service for the conventional agribusiness interests that has invested in giant livestock factories,” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, which has long sought stricter standards and stricter enforcement from the USDA. The administration “is throwing out 25 years of precedent in terms of developing organic regulations and enforcing them.”
“They are trying to trick the public and sell their products at a premium under a deficient organic label,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “They want the profit that comes from the halo effect of the organic label, but they don’t want to adhere to common-sense animal welfare standards. I don’t think consumers think that organically raised animals are living in a giant confinement shed.”
There is a word for what the USDA is doing under the Trump administration that both describes their actions and at the same time is fully organic:it’s called bullshit. In the end, what else can you expect from a man who famously gorges himself Big Macs and KFC?