The US Department of Agriculture announced Monday it would rescind a regulation aimed at improving animal conditions at certain slaughterhouses.
In an announcement to be published in the Federal Register, the department claimed the rule exceeded its statutory authority.
The regulation would have affected participants in the National Organic Program, requiring them to take a number of steps to improve the well-being of chickens and cattle.
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In order to keep their organic certification, the rule stipulated that producers must ensure chickens have free movement within their cages, and that cows can access the outdoors year round. Other measures improved animal welfare during transportation and handling prior to slaughter.
The regulation was finalized in April 2016, and it was finally set to take effect in May, after the Trump administration delayed its implementation three times throughout last year.
The department admitted in its Federal Register filing that the vast majority of feedback it received was against repeal of the rule.
Of the “approximately 72,000 comments on the proposal,” the department noted, “over 63,000, opposed the withdrawal of that final rule.”
“Commenters opposing withdrawal included consumers, organic farmers, organic handlers, organizations representing animal welfare, environmental, or farming interests, trade associations, certifying agents and inspectors, and retailers,” the USDA reported.
In a department statement on Monday, Greg Ibach undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, claimed: “existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective.”
Current standards, however, only loosely cover animal welfare beyond their diets. The lack of rules allow for organically-certified slaughterhouses to mistreat animals in many of the same ways non-certified establishments.
The USDA admitted in January 2017 — the final month of the Obama administration — that the current standards are vague and allow for abuse.
“A lack of clarity in organic livestock and poultry standards has led to inconsistent practices among organic producers,” the department said in public briefing material on the regulation.
Other scrapped stipulations of the rule include a prohibition on de-beaking chickens, forced molting, and cow tail docking — the lopping off of young cow’s tails.