National Organic Standards Board Recommends Higher Animal Welfare Standards
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted unanimously on Friday to recommend that the USDA enact regulations holding organic meat and poultry producers to higher animal welfare standards. According to the rule, producers seeking organic certifications would need to provide their animals with free mobility within their pens, as well as offer them clear outside access. According to testimony provided by the NOSB, most organic producers and brands would meet the new requirements, which would take effect on May 19.
The USDA first proposed changes to regulations last April, following a unanimous recommendation from the National Organic Standards Board in 2011.
Consumer Views on Organic Food and Animal Welfare
As detailed in Packaged Fact’s recent report, Animal Welfare: Issues and Opportunities in the Meat, Poultry, and Egg Markets in the U.S., “animal welfare” encompasses key areas including housing, handling, feeding, and slaughter. Packaged Facts survey data from February-March 2017 show that 58% of U.S. consumers are more concerned about food animal welfare than they were just a few years ago.
Rising interest in animal welfare issues is due in part to consumers’ increased concern about the safety of their food, and the growing belief that if an animal is raised in healthy circumstances, then its meat and dairy products will be healthier, as well as better-tasting and more nutritious. Although the common assumption that organic standards currently include animal welfare provisions is a misconception, organic foods such as grass-fed beef succeed precisely because of the consumer assumption that organic certification in meat, poultry, and dairycase foods is inherently linked to animal welfare.
Consumers have different levels of understanding and trust when it comes to product claims associated with animal welfare. Packaged Facts reports that 19% of consumers only have a general idea of what ‘grass-fed’ means, with another 19% reporting they don’t have a good idea of what the term ‘certified humane’ means. Only a minority of grocery shoppers (33%) view themselves as well-informed about claims such as hormone/steroid/antibiotic free, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, and certified humane. Nonetheless, nearly two-thirds of consumers agree that humane treatment of animals raised for food should be a societal concern and a regulatory issue.
Implementing Animal Welfare Standards
Food companies spanning the production and delivery spectrum, increasingly attuned to consumer as well as investor concerns, have been taking steps to improve the quality of life of the animals in their supply chains. Animal welfare organizations supported by consumers have been a driving force for change, though the decision to improve animal welfare is ultimately left to the individual company, whose response is often grounded in the desire to be competitive in a changing marketplace and proactively responsive to emerging trends. Pork producers are abandoning gestation crates, while egg producers are switching over to cage-free practices. Despite consumers’ varying levels of understanding the relationships between organic brand foods and animal welfare standards, new standards are being shaped by next-generation consumer expectations.
Find more information, see Packaged Facts’ new report, Animal Welfare: Issues and Opportunities in the Meat, Poultry, and Egg Markets in the U.S.