Free-range chickens on grass in yard. johan10/ThinkstockPhotos

USDA withdraws Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule

USDA has determined the rule exceeds the department’s statutory authority.

USDA announced today it has withdrawn the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published on Jan. 19, 2017. The withdrawal becomes effective May 13, 2018.

Significant policy and legal issues were identified after the rule published in January 2017. After careful review and two rounds of public comment, USDA has determined that the rule exceeds the department’s statutory authority, and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program, including real costs for producers and consumers. 

“The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” said USDA Marketing and Regulatory Program Undersecretary Greg Ibach. “The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.” 

According to USDA reports for 2017, the number of certified organic operations increased domestically by 7% and globally by 11%. Industry estimates show that organic sales in the United States reached almost $47 billion in 2016, reflecting an increase of almost $3.7 billion since 2015. 

USDA carefully considered public comments and the relative costs and benefits for both producers and consumers of imposing the proposed additional regulations. 

More information on the OLPP final rule is available in the March 12, 2018, Federal Register, and on the USDA National Organic Program web page.

Timeline

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service announced in January 2017 a final rule that clarified production requirements for organic livestock and poultry. The rule was then delayed by an executive order signed by President Trump. Its effective date was moved to March 20, 2017. – Farm Futures 

USDA delayed the effective date of the organic rule for an additional six months to Nov. 14, 2017, to allow time for further consideration. The effective date for this rule was initially March 20, 2017, and was subsequently delayed to May 19, 2017. Comments were accepted with a June 9, 2017, deadline. – Farm Futures 

Praise for the announcement

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, praised the announcement. 

“It’s official – the Obama Administration rule that would have jeopardized the livelihood of organic livestock and poultry producers is gone,” said Roberts. “America’s organic livestock and poultry producers can now breathe easy that they can maintain the health of their flocks and herds the best way they see fit, and they will not be driven out of business by another government regulation.” 

"Common sense scored an all-too-rare victory in Washington, DC, today,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Kevin Kester. “Not only did USDA not have the legal authority to implement animal-welfare regulations, but the rule would have also vilified conventionally raised livestock without recognizing our commitment to raise all cattle humanely, regardless of the marketing program they're in. Secretary Sonny Perdue deserves a lot of credit for yet another common-sense decision that will benefit America's cattle producers."

“The American Farm Bureau supports USDA’s decision to withdraw the misguided Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule,” said American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall. “The rule did not promote food safety or animal welfare. It went beyond the intent of the Organic Production Act by allowing for animal welfare standards and metrics to become part of the organic label. Had the rule gone into effect, forcing organic farmers and ranchers to arbitrarily change their production practices, many would have been driven out of the organic sector or out of business entirely, reducing the supply of organic food choices for America’s consumers.”

Criticism for the decision

National Farmers Union says the regulations were governed by those who created the organic movement. The National Organic Standards Board directed the National Organic Program to issue the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices standards in order to bring consistency to the organic standards.

“USDA’s action to withdraw the OLPP rule is a mistake that will cost the family producers who already adhere to strict standards in order to meet ‘organic’ standards,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “It puts them on an uneven playing field with the types of operations who skirt the rules, yet also benefit from the same USDA organic label.”

The Organic Trade Association strongly condemned the USDA for its withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulation, saying the department had – without regard for public comment and without respect for legal authorities -- irresponsibly thwarted a fully vetted regulation overwhelmingly supported by the organic industry and the public.

The Organic Trade Association filed a lawsuit against USDA over the department’s failure to put the new organic livestock standards into effect. The regulation had been developed and fully vetted for more than a decade by the organic sector, the National Organic Standards Board and USDA’s National Organic Program. Since the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, the government has attempted six times to delay the implementation of the rule.

“This most recent egregious attempt by the department to ignore the will of the organic industry and consumers does not halt our judicial review, but, in fact, furthers our resolve,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “USDA’s unconscionable action does not deter us. USDA is hoping this issue will go away, but this latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation.”

USDA received roughly 72,000 comments, with an overwhelming majority supporting OLPP, according to the Organic Trade Association. USDA also recognizes that of those comments, only about 50 supported the withdrawal.

USDA is withdrawing the rule based on its current interpretation of 7 U.S. C. 6905, citing that the OLPP rule exceeds USDA’s statutory authority. USDA wrongly alleges that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 does not authorize the animal welfare provisions of the OLPP final rule, and, in doing so, cites definitions of organic outside the law.

“Since the filing of our lawsuit last September, a host of organic stakeholders representing thousands of organic farming families, organic certifiers and organic policymakers – along with leading animal welfare and retail groups speaking out for millions of consumers -- have joined our challenge,” added Batcha. “The organic sector depends on USDA to set organic standards fairly and according to the law. When USDA fails to do this, it is time for the organic community to insist that it live up to its responsibility.”

What does the Organic Livestock Rule do?

It addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices:

  1. Living conditions,
  2. Animal care,
  3. Transport, and
  4. Slaughter

The rule refines and clarifies a series of organic animal welfare recommendations incorporated into the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established the federal organic regulations. It requires producers to give their poultry access to the outdoors.

Source: USDA, Office of Sen. Pat Roberts, National Farmers Union, NCBA, AFBF, Organic Trade Association

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