The organic industry has a voluntary program that is upheld by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After years of trying to get USDA to promulgate rules to increase requirements for livestock producers, it appears organic producers won’t get what they’ve been seeking, unless the courts come in and say otherwise.
USDA announced Dec. 15 its intent to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule. The rule was finalized in January 2017, but placed on hold when the new administration took office. In mid-November the agency had suggested it was going to reevaluate the rule and was extending consideration of the rule until May 14, 2018. The latest action formally terminates the rule just weeks later.
The organic livestock rule, initially proposed in April of 2016, adds new provisions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions; and expands and clarifies existing requirements covering livestock care and production practices.
In withdrawing the rule, the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined the regulation exceeded the agency's authority and that it would have had a greater economic impact on farmers than originally estimated.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has been a widespread supporter of the rule. After months of delay it has even decided to sue USDA in order to require them to move forward on the rule which they have sought to help bring increased integrity to their voluntary label.
In a statement following Friday’s announcement, OTA said it was “dismayed” at the action by the USDA.
“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. 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% 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,” said OTA CEO Laura Batcha.
Batcha continued consumers trust that the organic seal stands for a meaningful difference in production practices. “Most striking is the administration’s continued confusion that organic standards are mandatory rather than voluntary,” added Batcha. “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.”
National Farmers Union senior vice president of public policy and communications Rob Larew said that currently there is 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,” he said.
However, the rule has not been universally supported. Many commodity groups such as the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and even larger organic businesses voiced opposition about the stipulations and costly regulations without none animal welfare benefits.
NPPC raised a number of problems with the regulation, including animal and public health concerns and the fact 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.
"We'd like to thank Sec. Perdue and the Trump administration for listening to our concerns with the rule and recognizing the serious challenges it would have presented our producers," said NPPC president Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill.
OTA has turned to the courts to uphold organic standards. In anticipation of the USDA’s continued attempts to kill this regulation, OTA recently filed an amended complaint in Federal Court.
“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,” Batcha said.
The withdraw notice, which will be published in the Federal Register the week of Dec. 18, is subject to a public comment period.