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USDA Gives in to Big 'Organic' Poultry, Moves to Withdraw New Animal Welfare Rules

Animals

Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally proposed withdrawing a set of rules finalized at the end of the Obama administration that establish stronger, more enforceable animal welfare requirements for certified organic producers.


The rules, titled the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, are the product of more than a decade of collaboration and coordination among the organic community, including consumers, farmers, veterinarians, environmentalists and animal welfare groups. Unfortunately, a few large-scale egg producers fear the new rules will expose their less-than-organic practices and put pressure on USDA and Congress to stop the rule.

"The new rules are vital for protecting animal welfare, organic consumers, and the thousands of farmers that opt-in to organic certification," said Cameron Harsh, senior manager for Organic & Animal Policy at the Center for Food Safety.

The rules, which have been delayed from implementation three separate times since being finalized in January 2017, provide needed clarity on organic animal care, including prohibiting several painful alterations. In particular, the rules require all animals to have real access to the outdoors, which must include contact with soil and vegetation, and outline minimum spacing requirements for poultry. This is, in fact, what consumers already expect from the organic poultry and eggs they buy in stores. But the largest poultry producers have so far been able to consider small, cement, fenced-in areas as outdoor access and have not been required to abide by specific spacing limitations.

"The rules would hold all certified producers to the high standard of animal care that consumers expect and that the drafters of the organic law intended. If they are withdrawn, the steadily growing organic market and consumer trust in the organic seal will be at risk," added Harsh.

Center for Food Safety has submitted extensive comments in support of the rules. While the rules are not perfect, they are a substantial step toward ensuring all organic animals are provided a consistent level of care. The small but vocal opposition against the rules have misrepresented the realities of the rules in order to continue business-as-usual.

The proposal to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule is open for public comment until Jan. 17, 2018.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.