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What Is Greener than St. Patrick’s Day?

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Jeanne Roberts There have been 0 comments

On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 this year, expect the usual suspects, which include green beer, green shirts with shamrocks printed on them, even green nail polish and green hair – though we sometimes think all of them combined is simply a bridge too far …

What you may not expect are new reports released by Consumer Reports, under their Greener Choices umbrella, which show how much American activism has influenced living conditions for farm animals. Take the case of the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® label on everything from beef and dairy cattle to chickens.

The label, as you might suspect, covers precise, objective, farm animal-care standards intended to alleviate or eliminate such practices as dairy cows being confined in tie stalls, crated pigs that can’t root or move, and chickens stuffed in cages. It also requires ranchers and farmers to provide clean litter in chicken and poultry houses, clean bedding for pigs, and environmental enrichment for both chickens and pigs.

Sadly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) “organic” label doesn’t codify the claim. That is, it doesn’t dictate about a farm animal’s right to be outdoors, in the open, nor does it mandate anesthetic for surgical procedures, and in only a few instances are poultry producers dropping the use of antibiotics to maximize growth.

The definition of “environmental enrichment” for chickens is something the USDA doesn’t even touch, though most poultry farmers are aware of the benefits of string bunches, sandboxes and seeded hay. It has, however, upgraded the organic label for poultry (and livestock) to include prescribed methods for de-beaking (to keep chickens from pecking eggs and each other); for the definition of “outdoor space”; for mandatory maximum indoor and outdoor densities; for the humane transport of poultry and livestock; for humane slaughter.

The new USDA rules, originally slated for enforcement beginning March 20, have since been pushed ahead to May 19 (2017). All organic-labeled enterprises must meet requirements within 5 years.

The additional costs are also a bit of green, potentially raising consumer prices by about 18 million overall for those who buy organic.

According to the USDA, the final rule “… establishes a level playing field for organic producers, bolsters consumer confidence in the organic label, and ensures that all organic animals live in pasture-based systems utilizing production practices that support their well-being and natural behavior”.

Consumer Reports argues that – the best consumer intentions notwithstanding – all the “humane” claims fall short of what consumers would actually like to see happen. That is, the USDA rule will provide animal care and treatment which is only a little better than conventional farming, but at a projected cost which may raise prices by 25 to 30 percent more. Nor will it prevent the use of antibiotics to maximize growth in all instances.

Moreover, there is no real oversight by the USDA. Producers are required to submit information about their raising, feeding, transportation and slaughter practices, but no one actually checks.

Fortunately for that portion of Americans who buy only organic, there are several other animal welfare certification programs, all of which are NGOs. These are: the Animal Welfare Approved; the Certified Humane Raised and Handled; the Global Animal Partnership; and the American Humane Certified.

All are dedicated to the ensuring that farm animals have access to adequate space, nutritious food and appropriate medical treatment. However, each has different requirements, or a different level of mandated care, with Animal Welfare Approved and Global Animal Partnership at the top.

In answer to our question – what is greener than St. Patrick’s Day – we can safely say “not the USDA”. When shopping for your St. Patrick’s Day meal (corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, etc.), choose carefully. There are shades of green, and the organic label is no longer enough to insure meat and egg animals are treated with care.


This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Eating Well, Holidays and was tagged with antibiotics, eggs, farm animals, green living, humane, meat, ORGANIC, SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS, U. S. Department of Agriculture, USDA


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