Citing significant policy and legal issues warranting further review, USDA has announced it is delaying for six months the effective date of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule, reigniting a debate over what it should include.
The rule was set to take effect May 19 after the original March 20 effective date was extended by an executive order that froze pending regulations for 60 days to allow review by the Trump administration.
The rule amends the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for avian living conditions and livestock handling and transport for slaughter. It also expands and clarifies existing requirements for livestock care and production practices and mammalian living conditions.
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which administers the National Organic Program, is now extending the effective date to Nov. 14 and asking the public for comment on whether to let rule become effective, suspend it indefinitely, delay it or withdraw it.
The move frustrates the Organic Trade Association, which contends the rule — more than a decade in the making — is widely supported by consumers and organic producers and certifiers.
“An additional six-month delay is unnecessary, and in fact kicks the can down the road once again in typical Washington fashion. This is a blatant example of the D.C. machine evading a transparent public process,” OTA said in a statement to Capital Press.
“We are frustrated that a final rule having gone through such extensive public and industry feedback and official scrutiny is now being stopped. It is just plain wrong,” OTA stated.
The organization calls the rule a critical, comprehensive and well-thought-out regulation and said killing it will damage the vibrant U.S. organic sector and rural communities.
Conventional livestock and poultry groups, however, welcome the delay and object to the rule on many fronts.
National Pork Producers Council is pleased the administration has further delayed the rule, said Dave Warner, NPPC director of communications.
“We will submit comments, urging USDA to scrap this ill-advised, costly and largely unworkable regulation, which is not science-based and would present real challenges to protecting animal and public health,” he said.
NPPC’s list of objections — shared by many livestock and poultry groups — begins with the contention that animal-handling practices are not a defining characteristic of organic agriculture and are not germane to the National Organic Program as authorized by Congress.
Consumer misconception — the supposed reason USDA proposed the rule — about the intent of the program and the meaning of its label is not a valid rationale for expanding it to encompass animal welfare, Warner said.
In addition, the proposed livestock practices will be costly, if even practicable, to implement for current organic producers and serve as a barrier to new producers entering organic production, without making the resulting products substantively more organic, he said.
“Animal welfare is complex and dynamic; decisions about animal care need to be science-based and carefully considered by each producer,” he said.
And the proposed rule presents significant challenges to the maintenance and promotion of public and animal health.
For example, people can get trichinellosis — a serious illness — by eating raw or undercooked meat from animals infected by the trichinae parasite, which has been largely eliminated from the U.S. commercial swine herd.
The rule would require access to the outdoors, and outdoor production — specifically allowing pigs to forage and root in soil — is the major route of introduction for the trichinae parasite to pigs, he said.
“Increased cases of trichinae in organic pork would lead to consumer trust problems for all pork products and to distrust of U.S. pork from foreign trading partners, in addition to public health ramifications,” he said.
The National Association of Egg Farmers is also pleased with the delay and hopeful that needed amendments will be made, said Ken Klippin, NAEF president.
“The proposed rule specifies poultry living standards that are purely subjective,” he said.
For example, the rule requires roughly 2 square feet of indoor and outdoor space per adult egg-laying chicken, which is not based on any available science, he said.
Furthermore, outdoor access of poultry is recognized by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as a potential concern for spreading poultry diseases such as avian influenza, which led to the largest animal-health incident in U.S. history in 2014-2015, costing $1.6 billion in direct losses to farmers and $3.3 billion to the economy, he said.