USDA to delay organic livestock rule again
May 10, 2017
The Agriculture Department has set for Federal Register publication today a rule that will delay the implementation of an organic animal welfare rule that would require organic poultry to live mostly outdoors.
The Obama administration promulgated the rule, and it was supposed to go into effect on March 20. But the Trump administration initially delayed the rule until May 19.
The rule states: "Because there are significant policy and legal issues addressed within the final rule that warrant further review by USDA, AMS is further delaying the effective date of this rule by 180 days to Nov. 14, 2017. In addition, AMS will publish a proposed rule that solicits public comments on the direction that USDA should take with respect to the rule. The public will have a 30-day comment period to specify whether USDA should: (1) let the rule become effective, (2) suspend the rule indefinitely, (3) delay the effective date of the rule further, or (4) withdraw the rule."
The Organic Trade Association said USDA should implement the rule as scheduled, but large organic egg producers have opposed it on the grounds that the birds could be exposed to disease if they are outdoors.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., praised the action.
"I applaud Secretary Perdue for delaying the implementation of the disastrous rule, and I hope USDA will carefully consider its unintended consequences," Roberts said in a news release.
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"As I've heard time and time again from organic livestock and poultry producers — the folks who are most affected by its implementation — this rule is bad news for farmers, ranchers and consumers," he said. "Organic consumers will see increased prices at the grocery store; family farmers will be put out of business; and animal health will be put at risk, which will decrease food safety."
The Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Wayne Pacelle criticized the delay.
"This second, unwarranted delay is not only a subversion of consumer preferences, but it is a veiled maneuver to undercut America's family farmers," Pacelle said. "This rule is an enormous boon to America's family farmers who will be able to stay on the farm because of the value-added products they will be able to sell to increasingly informed consumers. The longer it's delayed, the more family farmers we'll see go out of business."
USDA promulgated the rule in January after 10 years of work on it, with thousands of family farmers involved in crafting the standards, which call for animals to have outdoor access and to be treated humanely, the Humane Society added.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said, "It's disappointing to see the USDA once again kick the can down the road on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. The agency does not need to solicit additional public comments on a rule that was consumer-driven and took 14 years to finalize. The organic market is thriving and creating new opportunities for American farmers. Now more than ever, we need to maintain organic integrity and push for a uniform standard that levels the playing field for all farmers. I urge USDA to preserve consumers' trust in the organic label and let the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule go into effect as soon as possible."