Organic Valley strongly supports the USDA’s final rule on organic animal care standards. Our farmer-owned cooperative, which works with thousands of organic dairy, hog and poultry producers, has long advocated for action to clarify the conditions and expectations for animal care in organic farming. We have lived with inconsistencies in organic livestock and poultry production methods that cannot be tolerated, and the rule rectifies those inconsistencies.

In 1993, our co-op helped write the original animal care standards with a clear intent that an organic livestock system is healthy when it encourages animals to exhibit their natural behaviors—cows need to graze on pasture, and chickens need to scratch in dirt and have real access to the outdoors. Egg-laying hens in a screened-in, concrete porch are not outside, and this final rule makes that clear.

This rule, which only clarifies the known standards, has been a long time coming. If anyone claims economic hardship to comply with the final rule, it is only because they knowingly built a non-compliant facility. Doing nothing to clarify livestock and poultry practices would damage the USDA Certified Organic brand, and that would be a true hardship faced by the entire organic industry if consumers lose confidence in the organic seal. To be organic is voluntary. It’s a choice to fit into a regulatory framework that has standards. No one is forced into this marketplace.

These standards come at a time when many retailers, from Whole Foods to Walmart, are responding to consumer demand and engaging with their suppliers to advance animal welfare through their purchasing power. Animal living conditions and welfare are a critical part of an organic livestock system. Consumers expect and deserve transparency and integrity when it comes to how animals are cared for, and organic is leading this conversation.

Some political leaders and industrial livestock groups would seek to undo the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practice final rule, which has gone through the customary and trusted rule-making process that the National Organic Program is cemented in. Congressional interference or an administrative turnabout of these animal care standards, which enhance marketplace competition, should be rebuffed. Organic agriculture is an economic, market-driven engine for rural America and should not be politicized or eroded by trying to weaken the standards or subverting the process for creating those organic rules.

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Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation’s leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents more than 2,000 farmers in 36 U.S. states, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom and achieved $1.04 billion in 2015 sales. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a wide range of organic dairy, soy, egg and produce products. With its regional model, milk is produced, bottled and distributed right in the region where it is farmed to ensure fewer miles from farm to table and to support our local economies. For further information visit www.organicvalley.coop. Organic Valley is also on Twitter and Facebook.