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USDA plans to withdraw contentious organic rule

The agency said it intends to withdraw the rule because it exceeds its statutory authority beyond the intent of the Organics Food Production Act.
Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Published on December 18, 2017 9:52AM

The USDA announced Dec. 15 that it is withdrawing a proposed rule dealing with animal handling practices for organic livestock and poultry. The rule, largely supported by organic interests, was opposed by conventional livestock producer organizations.

Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

The USDA announced Dec. 15 that it is withdrawing a proposed rule dealing with animal handling practices for organic livestock and poultry. The rule, largely supported by organic interests, was opposed by conventional livestock producer organizations.


USDA announced on Friday it intends to put an end to a new rule dealing with animal handling practices for organic livestock and poultry, saying the rule exceeds its statutory authority.

Fully supported by the Organic Trade Association, which largely developed the rule, and the National Farmers Union, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule has drawn staunch opposition from conventional livestock groups.

That opposition has shelved implementation of the rule twice after the new administration put an initial, temporary hold on it – as well as any new regulation – after Trump took office.

Now set to get the ax after a public comment period, the rule would have added new provisions for livestock handling and transportation for slaughter and avian living conditions in organic production. It would also have expanded existing requirements for livestock care and production practices.

The Organic Trade Association issued a statement of dismay on USDA’s intention to withdraw the rule and vowed to continue to fight for its implementation.

“This groundless step by USDA is being taken against a backdrop of nearly universal support among organic businesses and consumers for the fully vetted rules that USDA has now rejected,” OTA stated.

And USDA’s latest action might not be the final nail in the coffin.

OTA filed a lawsuit against USDA in September in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking judicial review of the administration’s earlier delays. It amended its complaint last week to include the November delay.

“We will continue our fight to uphold organic standards … we will see the department in court and are confident that we will prevail on this important issue for the organic sector,” OTA stated.

National Farmers Union is disappointed with USDA’s decision, saying the rule would improve the consistency and integrity of organic livestock practices and labeling.

“We urge USDA to find a solution that provides certainty to family organic producers and integrity to the organic label,” said Rob Larew, NFU senior vice president of public policy and communications.

The National Pork Producers Council was also quick to issue a statement, saying the rule would have incorporated welfare standards that weren’t based on science and outside the scope of the Organic Food Production Act, which limited organic considerations to feeding and medical practices.

“We’d like to thank Secretary 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 Ken Maschhoff, NPPC president.

NPPC raised a number of problems with the regulation, arguing that animal production practices have nothing to do with the basic concept of “organic.”

It also cited the complexity the standards would have added to the organic certification process, creating significant barriers to existing and new organic producers.

Fewer conventional livestock and poultry groups have commented on this latest round in the organic rule saga. But the opposition has also included the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Association of Egg Producers and National Milk Producers Federation.

They’ve opposed the rule on several fronts, saying the proposed practices aren’t based on science but aimed at consumer perception and threaten both animal and human public health.

They’ve contended 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 beleaguered rule was first propose in April 2016, finalized in the final days of the Obama administration and set to go into effect March 20 of this year. That implementation was delayed by Trump’s executive order putting a hold on any pending regulation, pushing implementation to May 19.

USDA delayed that implementation until Nov. 14, and in November pushed implementation to May 14, 2018 — citing policy and legal issues in both instances.



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