Absent Federal Policy, States Take Lead on Animal Welfare

With hard-won federal gains in the balance, states might be the next battleground for animal welfare reform.


By Elizabeth Grossman, Civil Eats



In the opening weeks of the Trump administration, the state of animal welfare—as with so much other policy—is in upheaval. On February 9, the administration froze the implementation of the just-passed Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP)—the only comprehensive federal law that regulates the welfare of animals raised for food.


The freeze comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) removing Animal Welfare Act inspection reports from its website. These cover compliance (and violations) of facilities that raise animals commercially for sale as pets, for biomedical research, and for zoos and circuses—but not those raised for food. In fact, only animals on the way to slaughter and in the slaughterhouse are covered under existing national law.


The USDA says it removed the data for privacy reasons and because of ongoing litigation. In response, PETA and half a dozen other animal rights groups have filed suit against the USDA, charging the agency with violating the Freedom of Information Act. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is also taking steps toward legal action, and Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), calling it a “transparency issue,” has demanded that the USDA immediately restore this data. Meanwhile, activists have recovered the deleted data and made it publicly available at thememoryhole2.org.


In a press release, the USDA explained that the Trump administration is delaying the OLPP rule “to ensure the new policy team has an opportunity to review the rules.” But organic food producers and animal welfare and food safety advocates point to the long process of developing the updated rule and its significance to growing consumer interest in farm animal welfare. “The rule has been fully vetted and has undergone the public comment process and scrutiny of federal budget watchdogs,” said the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in a statement.


“It’s extremely concerning,” said Center for Food Safety (CFS) organic and animal policy senior manager  Cameron Harsh, denouncing the recent actions as an “attack on transparency” and an attempt “to deny the public access to information they want to know and take action on.”


States Lead the Way on Animal Welfare


As national standards for food animal welfare are either absent or left in the crosshairs, many advocates are looking to the states, where policies have been initiated to fill this gap and meet consumer demand. This is good news for the safety of everything from milk and eggs to burgers and bacon.


This past November, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a measure banning in-state sales of products from confined calves, hens, and pigs. Ten other states have banned this type of animal confinement, but so far, Massachusetts and California are the only two that also bar sales of any such products.


“State laws can have a powerful impact in pushing the federal government,” as can those from retailers, said CFS’s Harsh. And he explained,“The welfare of food animals has direct implications for food safety, public health, and the environment.” Crowded or unsafe conditions can be breeding grounds for pathogens, which leads to increased use of antibiotics, a potentially world-changing risk to public health. Animals that are sick or distressed due to abusive or unsafe conditions entering the food supply also brings serious food safety risks.


Report Details State Gains and Practices ...


Steps Forward—and Back—at the State Level ...


What’s Next? ...


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