Organic livestock rule

The new USDA rules for how organic livestock and poultry are raised may be reinstated.

A hotly debated organic animal welfare rule finalized during the Obama administration and quashed by the Trump administration seems to be getting another look.

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Final Rule included new standards for raising, transporting and slaughtering animals.

It was set to go into effect in March 2017 but was delayed by an executive order when President Trump put implementation of all pending regulations on hold.

USDA delayed implementation again in May and November 2017 and withdrew the rule in March 2018, stating it exceeds the agency’s statutory authority and could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.

The Organic Trade Association challenged the delays in court in September 2017, amending its complaint twice and challenging the withdrawal of the rule.

In December, OTA filed a motion to extend the deadlines for summary judgment briefing to permit the incoming administration time to evaluate the case.

The court granted the motion, and OTA and USDA in February sought a 30-day stay to explore the potential for an agreement that would allow resolution without further litigation.

OTA and USDA on March 22 jointly requested another 30-day extension in the deadline of a joint status report, saying they have conferred on several occasions regarding a potential amicable resolution.

A spokesperson for OTA told Capital Press the association can’t comment on ongoing negotiations but its goal from the beginning has been full reinstatement of the final rule.

The rule has also garnered support from four Democratic lawmakers who have sent a letter to President Biden to reinstate the rule. The letter was signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jon Tester of Montana and Reps. Chellie Pingree of Maine and Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

By withdrawing the final rule, the Trump administration “erroneously concluded that the Organic Food Production Act does not authorize existing federal organic livestock and stand-alone animal welfare standards,” they said.

“We urge the administration to take this opportunity to collaborate with the organic industry by reinstating the final rule and restoring organic policymaking authority to its proper role,” they said.

The OTA and other groups jointly sent a letter to Susan Rice, director of the U.S. Policy Council, asking her to rescind the previous administration’s withdrawal of the final rule and reinstate it.

“These steps are necessary to restore consumer confidence in the USDA Organic seal, improve animal welfare, protect the environment and support thousands of family farms that are the backbone of the organic industry,” they said.

Conventional livestock and poultry groups, however, fiercely opposed the rule, citing health threats to animals and the public. They argued its animal-welfare standards aren’t based on science and are outside the scope of the Organic Food Production Act, which they said regulates only feeding and medication practices.

In addition, some contended the rule would have vilified conventionally raised livestock.

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