Organic Panic: The Banality of the USDA Reversal.

Photo courtesy of iStock images.

In a highly anticipated move, the Trump administration announced plans to withdraw regulations that would have required organic egg producers to give their hens room to graze outdoors, a decision that favors industrial farmers.

I have been a vegetarian for more than two years. One of the issues that almost converted me to a vegan was concerned organic labeling, specifically, that of organic eggs.

For eggs to qualify as “organic,” they must adhere to a few rules under the United States Department of Agriculture. What are they? Hens must have shade, shelter, the ability to exercise, fresh air, clean water, and direct sunlight. As one can see, these qualifiers are vague. In an interview with NPR, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, for instance, decided to interpret these rules their own way, stating that “access to the outdoors” means chickens get to live in houses with screened in porches. Using the Cornucopia Institute “egg scorecard” system, NPR reports half the country’s organic eggs come from farms like this.

At the tail end of the Obama regulation, these would no longer be enough. The USDA revealed there would need to be roughly 2 square feet per each leg-laying hen. This means farms like Herbruck’s–housing 2.2 million chickens–would have needed own approximately 101 acres of land for their hens to qualify as organic under the USDA regulation. Now, these regulations have been reversed, allowing organic farmers to justify using smaller–thus, inhumane– conditions.

After 12 months of the Trump administration, though, this reversal almost feels banal, like a footnote in the remaining days of Trump’s first year in office. So banal, in fact, I scrolled through the Twitter and Facebook feeds of Mercy For Animals, PETA, and The Humane League, and I could not find any information regarding the reversal.


No information on the reversal. No information on what the reversal meant. No information on who animal rights supporters can call to determine its repeal. No activation campaigns to contact the Secretary of Agriculture, local representatives, or the farmers themselves who have lobbied to have such regulations removed. Mercy for Animals shared an old video revealing where eggs came from on Friday, Dec. 15, the day the reversal was made. However, they did not explicitly contextualize it or make it relevant.

Maybe I’m not being fair. Perhaps each of the organizations has an activation campaign in the pipeline to call the Trump administration out. But this decision was highly anticipated, and as a supporter of animal welfare, I’m mystified by the fact that none of the most popular animal rights organizations have had anything to say about it from the onset.

Right now, no visible campaigns are demanding that the administration to reverse this decision, but for those who purchase eggs–specifically, organic eggs– the best they can do is adhere to the Cornucopia Institute scorecard and possibly write to those who are falling short, demanding they make changes.

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