Animal welfare groups join lawsuit over USDA organic rules

Several organizations are suing the USDA over its decision to withdraw a new rule governing organic livestock and poultry.

The ASPCA and Animal Welfare Institute have joined the Organic Trade Association in its lawsuit against USDA for not implementing new organic livestock standards.

The original lawsuit, filed in federal court last September, was aimed at USDA’s repeated delays in implementing the standards that were finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration.

On Wednesday, OTA revised its complaint to reflect USDA’s plan, announced last month, to withdraw the final regulation.

USDA stated the rule exceeds the agency’s statutory authority and could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.

The amended complaint argues that USDA’s contention that it does not have the authority to regulate animal care, welfare or production standards under the Organic Food Production Act is “novel and erroneous.”

It also argues that it conflicts with every previous administration’s approach to rulemaking under OFPA and the National Organic Standards Board.

OTA welcomes the support of the animal welfare community in standing up against the administration’s attack on this important standard for organic livestock and poultry, Laura Batcha, OTA executive director, said in a press release.

“In USDA’s attempt to kill this fully vetted final regulation, they’ve taken a radical departure from conclusions reached over more than 20 years of rulemaking regarding organic livestock care,” she said.

It is an aberrant view that has no historical basis or legal justification, she said.

Conventional livestock and poultry groups have fiercely opposed the rule, citing health threats to animals and the public. They have argued its animal-welfare standards aren’t based on science and are outside the scope of the OFPA, which limits organic regulations to feeding and medication practices.

They have also argued that it would vilify conventional livestock practices, open the door to activists’ lawsuits and create barriers for existing and new organic producers.

The final rule — which addresses living conditions, animal health care, transportation and slaughter — was published after more than a decade of extensive public input and thorough vetting, OTA contends.

Public comment showed more than 63,000 comments opposed withdrawing the rule and 50 in support.

The rule had been widely praised by animal advocates, consumer protection groups and the vast majority of the organic livestock industry, Erin Thompson, staff attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute, said.

The institute strongly disagrees with USDA’s position, saying not only has USDA already determined it has the authority to regulate animal welfare, it has consistently done so in the past.

ASPCA — the acronym for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — said it worked with USDA to craft the rule, which would have required outdoor access for animals in organic production.

While the vast majority of organic farmers meet high standards of animal care, an increasing number of large-scale “faux-ganic” companies are exploiting loopholes in the organic rules, the organization stated.

ASPCA is joining the lawsuit because “USDA has abdicated its duty to enforce meaningful organic animal welfare standards,” Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO, said.

In January, the Humane Society of the United States filed a separate lawsuit against USDA over the rule.

Recommended for you