USDA kills animal welfare rule for organic meat
DES MOINES, IA (AP) - The Trump administration is withdrawing a federal rule that would have required organic meat and egg producers to abide by stricter animal welfare standards.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday it has withdrawn the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published in January 2017 by former President Barack Obama's administration.
The regulation was to ensure that organically grown livestock had enough space to lie down, turn around, stand up, fully stretch and had access to fresh air and proper ventilation.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the national organization supports USDA’s decision, saying the new proposed 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," Duvall said. “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."
Meanwhile, the Organic Trade Association blasted the withdrawal of the rule, calling the action "egregious," and warning of continued litigation.
The association said the 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.
The association said it is intensifying its efforts in the courts to resolve the issue, and that it will be immediately amending its official complaint against USDA to challenge the Department's latest attempt to kill the rule. The Organic Trade Association noted that last week it requested that oral arguments now be heard on its lawsuit against USDA over the Department's failure to put into effect the new organic livestock standards.
"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 Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. "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."
In its notice to withdraw the rule, USDA recognizes that the Department received roughly 72,000 comments with an overwhelming majority supporting OLPP, the group said, adding that only a fraction supported the withdrawal.
The OLPP addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport, and slaughter. The rule refines and clarifies a series of organic animal welfare recommendations incorporated into the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established the federal organic regulations. Most importantly, it stops the use of "porches" from being allowed in organic poultry production.
Batcha says this is a critical clarification of the existing organic standards, and levels the playing field for organic poultry producers.
"The organic sector depends on USDA to set organic standards fairly and according to the law. When USDA fails to do this, it is time for the organic community to insist that it live up to its responsibility," said Batcha.
The USDA says the rule exceeds the department's statutory authority and could increase food costs.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said USDA’s move will exacerbate consumer confusion about the meaning of the organic label, and negatively impact family organic producers.
“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," Johnson said. “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. 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.”
According to USDA reports for 2017, the number of certified organic operations increased domestically by seven percent and globally by 11 percent. Industry estimates show that organic sales in the United States reached almost $47 billion in 2016, reflecting an increase of almost $3.7 billion since 2015.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.