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The Issue

Improving animal welfare standards for organic farms

Animal welfare is a critical component of sustainable agriculture. While the organic standards have always addressed animal welfare, some of the requirements have been vague and open to wide interpretation. As a result, there has been inconsistency in how the standards are enforced. Some organic egg producers have provided small, entirely enclosed, concrete "porches" as outdoor space for their laying hens, rather than outdoor runs with soil and vegetation that give the hens enough space to engage in their natural behaviors. After many years of public pressure to improve animal welfare standards in organics, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed changes in April 2016. The final rule was adopted in January 2017. The USDA withdrew the final rule in March 2018.