A lawless organic industry: USDA shuts down livestock regulations
An ulterior devolution of power has continued in our political system as of late, and has now reared its ugly head in the production of our food supply. Last December, President Trump’s influence on the USDA swayed them to renege against the regulations on animal welfare and organic food production. To that end, the age-old phrase “You are what you eat” has never been more apropos in terms of what’s being delivered to supermarket shelves nationwide.
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) guidelines were enacted at the tail end of the Obama Administration – and was a part of a two decade bipartisan-backed process working to clarify the difference between conventional and organic food practices, in relation to the general treatment and slaughter of animals that produce our organic meat, dairy and eggs.
The organic food scene has grown exponentially since the turn of the millennium and it doesn’t look to be dragging its heels any time soon. According to USDA ERS, Consumers prefer organically produced food because of their concerns regarding health, the environment and animal welfare, and they show a willingness to pay the price premiums established in the marketplace. While this health-conscious ethos may have started as a small farming movement in the 1970’s, consumer demand has since launched organic offerings into overdrive.
What we know is: organic food is reflected in its higher price point; this is due to organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products coming from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones of any kind. Organic food is also produced without using most conventional pesticides or fertilizers. It goes without saying, conventional factory farming has taken a pretty drastic toll on climate change – so, choosing this not only provides a cleaner product for our plates, but also for the planet.
The certification process of becoming an organic provider is thorough. There are stipulated financial requirements, which, for previous decades, weeded out many false suppliers and left only the most honest, die-hard environmentalists to uphold these standards. Shockingly, organic farmers do not receive the federal subsidies that conventional farmers do, and the entire USDA certification process can cost anywhere between $200-$1400, depending on many factors including size and yield. Before the big organic boom, this deterred conventional farmers and ranchers from following these procedures.
It suffices to say that, for many, this type of farming was a no-brainer – a true labor of love to tend to their land, livestock and product. These farmers believe in the power of offering sustainable, clean, vibrant food and refuse to stand in the shadow of mass production factory farming. They propagate the idea that happy livestock – free of stress and abusive containment – creates the most delicious product, even if it meant sacrificing financial growth.
It is also important to remind ourselves that the organic industry is a $43 billion enterprise and for every small rancher who loves their livestock, there’s a big name company who is looking to fill their pockets a little deeper and capitalize on an ever-growing trend. They will follow the regulations to provide organic meat, dairy and eggs on a larger, higher-yielding scale, passing certifications, yet, duplicitously negate clear guidelines established within the OLPP. More to the point, with OLPP standards no longer in place, corporations stand to harvest the biggest profit.
A prime example of this type of divisive pretense is exhibited within the agrochemical corporation, Monsanto, and their massive overtaking of our local family farmers’ lands – to which they are known to spread toxic contamination throughout. Furthermore, nearly a decade ago, The Cornucopia Institute exposed confinement-style dairies that contained 4,000-10,000 cows producing organic milk for the well-trusted Horizon label – the nation’s largest organic milk brand, who were known to be at the forefront of ethical practices. Within that time, we’ve seen other producers of ostensibly “trusted brands” like Kreher’s, Bushman Farms, Redland Dairy and many others be scrutinized for their poor facility standards and quality of life for their livestock. Subsequently, this disturbing narrative has only made consumers question the motives of organic farming and what their dollar is funding.
If we continue to put our trust, and our hard-earned money, into an organic industry only to find out that the products in our pantries are mere mirages of humane and sustainable quality, it becomes a personal gamble on our health and consciences. Not to mention, it can hurt the reputations and the business of our neighborhood family farms – the kinds you see consistently at farmers market every weekend. When all trust is broken, and the demand falls, we lose a large majority of our local organic farmers, but also open up more space for large-scale production. This will, in turn, take a steep decline on our air supply, food quality, bee sustainability, water conservation, climate change, and animal rights, all together.
The USDA’s grave decision to not continue with OLPP regulations makes it nebulous to see where we’re being directed for the future of food distribution. So, now it’s time to begin exploring how our vote counts every time we spend a dollar from our weekly food budget. The relationship with our local organic farmers, ranchers and artisans couldn’t be more dire. Farmers Markets around the country have begun opening up for the year, and it’s a great way to begin building these connections and sourcing our products directly. LocalHarvest.org is an incredible resource to also find these suppliers within your county, and, many of them will welcome you for a tour of their facility, animals and product.
With 270.7 pounds of meat per person being consumed in America every year, and livestock industries influencing energy use, emissions and other environmental effects, our planet deeply depends on these hard-working families to cultivate and preserve our farmland and the animals who graze upon it. More than ever before, your dollar is your vote; your voice can be heard.