The Organic Trade Association is suing USDA over its failure to implement new organic livestock and poultry standards, originally set to go into effect March 20.
President Donald Trump’s executive order putting a freeze on all pending regulations for 60 days delayed implementation until May 19. But USDA has again delayed implementation until Nov. 14, citing significant policy and legal issues warranting further review.
That implementation, however, is on rocky ground with USDA asking for public comment on whether to let the rule become effective, suspend it indefinitely, delay it or withdraw it.
“We are standing up on behalf of the entire organic sector to protect organic integrity, advance animal welfare and demand the government keep up with the industry and the consumer in setting organic standards,” Laura Batcha, OTA executive director and CEO, said of the lawsuit.
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Production rule, which would add new provisions for livestock handling and avian living conditions, was developed by the organic industry over 14 years and is widely supported by organic stakeholders, she said.
The rule is the result of public and transparent work across multiple administrations, she said. The lawsuit is the result of many years of government failure to set it in place, Batcha said.
More than 47,000 comments were received during the 30-day comment period on the Nov. 14 implementation, with 99 percent in support of the rule becoming effective without further delay, OTA stated.
The lawsuit — filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington — alleges USDA violated the Organic Food Production Act and unlawfully delayed the rule’s effective date.
It also alleges USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act and abused its discretion by proposing action to indefinitely delay or kill the rule and issued repeated delays without any public process.
It also contends the executive order freezing regulations should not apply to the voluntary industry-driven organic standards that allow business to opt in or out.
OTA is asking the court to reverse USDA’s decision to delay implementation and eliminate its proposed options to further delay, rewrite or permanently shelve the rule — making the rule effective immediately as written.
Conventional livestock groups oppose the rule on several fronts, saying the proposed practices aren’t based on science but aimed at consumer perception and threaten animal and human public health.
They say the rule would be costly, impractical and ill-advised and its requirements for outdoor access could lead to the spread of animal and avian diseases, resulting in consumer mistrust of their products.
They also contend the organic program is a marketing program, which legally does not include animal welfare. Some are also concerned the rule would set a precedent that could be used by activist to push unscientific restrictions on all animal agriculture.
The National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation and National Association of Egg Producers have all voiced their concerns.