USDA withdraws organic livestock rule amidst praise, condemnation
March 13, 2018
The Trump administration withdrew the controversial Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule, a set of standards that organic producers would have had to meet to qualify for the voluntary organic label for livestock and poultry.
The rule was proposed by the Obama administration.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and the American Farm Bureau Federation praised the decision, while the National Farmers Union, the Organic Trade Association and the Humane Society of the United States condemned it.
The withdrawal rule by the Agricultural Marketing Service is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on March 13 to go into effect on May 13.
Conventional and some big organic groups opposed the original rule, while smaller farm and organic groups favored it.
"It's official — the Obama administration rule that would have jeopardized the livelihood of organic livestock and poultry producers is gone," Roberts said in a news release. "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. I thank (Agriculture) Secretary (Sonny) Perdue for listening to their concerns and withdrawing this damaging rule."
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American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, "The American Farm Bureau supports USDA's decision to withdraw the misguided Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule. Livestock health and well-being is a priority for all farmers and ranchers. We rely on trained professionals, including animal scientists, nutritionists and veterinarians, to ensure the health and safety of our food. The rule did not promote food safety or animal welfare. It went beyond the intent of the Organic Production Act by allowing for animal welfare standards and metrics to become part of the organic label.
"Had the rule gone into effect, forcing organic farmers and ranchers to arbitrarily change their production practices, many would have been driven out of the organic sector or out of business entirely, reducing the supply of organic food choices for America's consumers," Duvall said.
But the National Farmers Union said the withdrawal "will exacerbate consumer confusion about the meaning of the organic label, and it will ultimately negatively impact family organic producers who adhere to strict, voluntary organic standards."
NFU President Roger Johnson said, "The voluntary practices that farmers need to meet to qualify for a USDA 'organic' label have always been governed by those that created the organic movement and who adhere to the strict standards that are agreed upon by the National Organic Standards Board. This body directed the National Organic Program to issue the OLPP standards in order to have some consistency in what is considered to be an organic practice.
"USDA's action to withdraw the OLPP rule is a mistake that will cost the family producers who already adhere to strict standards in order to meet 'organic' standards," Johnson said. "It puts them on an uneven playing field with the types of operations who skirt the rules, yet also benefit from the same USDA organic label."
The Organic Trade Association said USDA "had — without regard for public comment and without respect for legal authorities — irresponsibly thwarted a fully vetted regulation overwhelmingly supported by the organic industry and the public."
OTA said it would intensify its efforts in the courts to resolve the issue and that it will immediately amend its official complaint against USDA to challenge the department's latest attempt to kill the rule. Last week, OTA requested that oral arguments now be heard on its lawsuit against USDA over the department's unwillingness to put the regulations into effect.
"This most recent egregious attempt by the department to ignore the will of the organic industry and consumers does not halt our judicial review, but, in fact, furthers our resolve," said OTA CEO Laura Batcha. "USDA's unconscionable action does not deter us. USDA is hoping this issue will go away, but this latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation."
The OLPP final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, and the government has now attempted six times — either through the rule-making process or through court filings — to delay the implementation of the rule, OTA noted.
"USDA is withdrawing the rule based on its current interpretation of 7 U.S. C. 6905, citing that the OLPP rule exceeds USDA's statutory authority," OTA said. "USDA wrongly alleges that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 does not authorize the animal welfare provisions of the OLPP final rule, and, in doing so, cites definitions of organic outside the law."
"It is notable that USDA cites the Merriam-Webster dictionary to justify a definition of 'organic,'" Batcha said. "Merriam-Webster also defines outdoor as 'not enclosed; having no roof,' and porches as 'a covered area … having a separate roof.' Organic standards already require that organic producers provide their animals access to the outdoors. So, by the assessment from Merriam-Webster, a source which USDA endorses in its official notice, porches are clearly not allowed in organic."
Sara Amundson, executive director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said, "Withdrawing the prior organics standards is an attack on family farmers and consumers who support improved animal welfare. This was one of the most important final rules to establish better living conditions for farm animals to ever come out of a federal agency, but the secretary decided to ignore overwhelming public and organic industry support of the rule."