A federal judge has decided a lawsuit the Organic Trade Association filed against USDA over its withdrawal of the new organic livestock and poultry rule can proceed.
That rule, finalized on the last day of the Obama administration in January 2017, included new standards for raising, transporting and slaughtering organic animals.
It was set to go into effect in March 2017 but was delayed by an executive order by President Trump delaying implementation of all pending regulations.
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.
OTA challenged the delays in court in September 2017, amending its complaint twice and challenging the withdrawal of the rule.
The government moved to dismiss OTA’s second amended complaint challenging USDA’s withdrawal of the rule, citing a lack of standing by OTA.
But the court on Wednesday denied that motion, finding OTA does have standing on behalf of its members, who contend they will face increased competition in the marketplace as a result of the withdrawal of the rule.
OTA’s members, who already comply with the requirements of the rule, state they suffer competitive harm because they must continue to compete against other organic operators who achieve lower production costs by not adhering to those practices.
The judge concluded the injury to OTA’s members is “concrete and particularized” and therefore OTA has standing to challenge withdrawal of the rule.
“The court has recognized the harm to organic producers, to organic businesses and to the integrity of the organic seal … and the potential for even greater damage,” Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA, said, in a statement on Thursday.
“We are confident our case is strong and look forward to winning this legal battle to uphold organic standards,” she said.
The court also allowed OTA to proceed with its claim that USDA violated the Organic Food Production Act by failing to consult with the National Organic Standards Board when considering and finalizing withdrawal of the rule.
While the court could not find a blanket requirement for USDA to consult with the board on livestock regulations, it also could not decide whether USDA was nonetheless required to do so before promulgating the withdrawal rule.
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule was the “largest and most important organic rule promulgated since the 2010 Access to Pasture Rule, and USDA consulted over its development with the Board,” Senior Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia wrote in her ruling.
As such, USDA might have been required to consult with the board before finalizing the withdrawal rule — which was similarly large and important, she wrote.
The court did, however, dismiss OTA’s challenge to USDA’s delays in implementation — on the grounds of the lack of or insufficient public notice and comment — finding those claims were made moot by the withdrawal of the rule.