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USDA scraps plans for higher standards for organic eggs

Chicago

THE US Department of Agriculture scrapped proposed rules on Monday that for the first time would have mandated specific space requirements for hens laying organic eggs and spelled out what it means for the birds to have access to the outdoors.

The USDA determined it did not have the authority to impose the rules, which were proposed under former president Barack Obama, according to a statement. The agency also said that existing regulations were effective.

In 2016, under Mr Obama, the USDA proposed the requirements in an attempt to increase confidence among consumers about what it means when food products carry an "organic" label. Divergent farming practices within the fast-growing organic sector were causing confusion among shoppers and giving an economic advantage to egg producers who provided less space to their poultry, the agency said at the time.

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However, the rules would have raised production costs for organic farmers and saddled them with more paperwork, Republican US Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas said.

"America's organic livestock and poultry producers can now breathe easy that they can maintain the health of their flocks and herds the best way they see fit, and they will not be driven out of business by another government regulation," he said.

Under the proposal, farmers would have been required to provide each hen with at least 0.2 square metre of outdoor space. It also would have defined outdoors as an area in the open air with at least 50 per cent soil, and no solid walls or a solid roof attached to the birds' indoor living space.

Matt Bershadker, chief executive of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: "Millions of animals will continue to suffer each year because of the USDA's abdication of its duty to enforce meaningful organic animal welfare standards." REUTERS