Withdrawal of organic rule pleases some, angers others
December 18, 2017
The Trump administration's decision Dec. 15 to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule that would have established tougher standards for the living conditions and transportation of livestock and poultry that bear the USDA organic seal pleased Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and the meat industry, but angered the Organic Trade Association, the Humane Society of the United States and other groups that supported the rule.
In a Federal Register notice, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service said it was withdrawing the rule because it exceeded USDA's statutory authority. The rule is subject to 30 days of public comment.
The rule was published Jan. 19, the day before President Barack Obama left office.
Roberts said, "With USDA's wise decision to withdraw this rule, organic livestock and poultry producers can rest assured that they will not be forced out of business by another costly and burdensome regulation."
"Having fought this unwanted and unneeded regulation from the beginning, I'm pleased to see the Trump administration listening to my concerns, along with the concerns of organic livestock and poultry producers across the country," he said.
"Together, we warned USDA of the unintended consequences of this rule, but our concerns fell on deaf ears in the previous administration. The rule was finalized two days before leaving office, despite its serious potential to force organic livestock and poultry producers out of business, increase prices paid by consumers for organic food and increase animal disease and mortality. By withdrawing this rule, the Trump administration is again demonstrating its commitment to de-regulate rural America."
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National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill., said, "We'd like to thank Secretary (Sonny) Perdue and the Trump administration for listening to our concerns with the rule and recognizing the serious challenges it would have presented our producers."
NPPC noted it raised a number of problems with the regulation, including animal and public health concerns and contended that animal production practices have nothing to do with the basic concept of "organic."
NPPC also cited the complexity the standards would have added to the organic certification process, creating significant barriers to existing and new organic producers.
National Farmers Union Association President Roger Johnson said "This is a very disappointing decision by USDA, both for American family farmers and for consumers."
"Currently, we have too much inconsistency in how organic certifiers apply animal welfare standards to farming and ranching operations. This, in turn, endangers the organic label's integrity and leads to consumer confusion. The OLPP rule would have helped mitigate these concerns by standardizing organic livestock and poultry practices for the voluntary National Organic Program."
The Organic Trade Association said it "is dismayed" by the action.
"This groundless step by USDA is being taken against a backdrop of nearly universal support among the organic businesses, and consumers for the fully vetted rules that USDA has now rejected," OTA said in a news release.
"By the department's own count, out of the more than 47,000 comments the department received in the last public comment period for the regulation, 99 percent were in favor of the rule becoming effective without further delay on Nov 14. USDA noted that of those 47,000 comments, only 28 supported withdrawing the rule.
"It is against this overwhelming public input that USDA ignores growing consumer demands for food transparency," OTA said.
"Consumers trust that the organic seal stands for a meaningful difference in production practices. It makes no sense that the Trump administration would pursue actions that could damage a marketplace that is giving American farmers a profitable alternative, creating jobs and improving the economies of our rural areas.
"Most striking is the administration's continued confusion that organic standards are mandatory rather than voluntary. Farmers, ranchers and businesses choose to be in the organic marketplace, and Congress intended that industry and consumers work together to develop organic standards. This action undermines that goal."
OTA said it had filed an amendment to its complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia on Sept. 13 over USDA's decision to delay implementation of the rule.
"We will continue our fight to uphold organic standards, that this administration continues to willfully ignore by repeatedly delaying this fully vetted and final voluntary organic standard, and now proposing to withdraw it. We will see the department in court and are confident that we will prevail on this important issue for the organic sector," OTA said.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said: "Today's announcement is a subversion of comprehensive federal animal welfare standards approved by the USDA, and it will prove crippling to family farmers all across the nation who treat their animals well and want to be able to market their products under an authentic 'organic' label."
"We are appalled by this action, and plan to mount a major effort to reverse a decision that will contribute to hollowing out rural communities and that will allow factory farmers to trick the public and sell their products at a premium under a deficient organic label."
Pacelle noted that the National Organic Standards Board, which advises USDA on organic policy, unanimously favored the rule that the USDA has now pulled.
"Despite the USDA's newly claimed confusion over its statutory authority to establish livestock standards, the act has long been interpreted to include animal welfare considerations, and the 2017 organics rule is consistent with congressional intent," he said.
Pacelle noted that "farmers and consumers opt into this program," and said "the USDA has a simple role: develop fair, science-based standards. Instead, the agency has bowed to Big Ag and scuttled a program that every key stakeholder in the organic space wanted. This is a political manifestation of the swamp at work."