USDA on Monday announced it is withdrawing the beleaguered Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published in January 2017, citing significant policy and legal issues.
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 contends there is overwhelming support for the rule by the organic industry and consumers. In September, it filed a lawsuit against USDA alleging the agency violated the Organic Food Production Act by delaying the rule’s effective date.
The rule was passed in the final days of the Obama administration and was initially set to go into effect March 20, 2017. A regulatory freeze by incoming President Trump pushed implementation back to May 19, 2017.
USDA delayed implementation twice after that and announced in December its intentions to withdraw the rule.
In a statement Monday, the OTA said USDA’s latest announcement only furthers its resolve to settle the matter in court.
“The USDA’s unconscionable action does not deter us … . This latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA.
USDA stated the rule exceeds the agency’s statutory authority and could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.
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 Organic Food Production Act, which they say regulates only feeding and medication practices.
The rule would have created significant barriers to existing and new organic producers, according to National Pork Producers Council.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association called USDA’s decision a common-sense victory.
“Not only did USDA not have the legal authority to implement (the) animal-welfare regulations, but the rule would have also vilified conventionally raised livestock without recognizing our commitment to raise all cattle humanely … ,” Kevin Kester, NCBA president, said.
In comments to USDA in January, National Milk Producers Federation said a fundamental problem with the rule is that it is driven more by economics and consumer perception rather than animal science and welfare.
National Farmers Union, however, said USDA’s move will exacerbate consumer confusion about the meaning of the organic label and negatively impact organic producers.
“The voluntary practices that farmers need to meet to qualify for a USDA organic label have always been governed by those that created the organic movement and who adhere to the strict standards that are agreed upon by the National Organic Standards Board,” Roger Johnson, NFU president, said.
Withdrawing the rule puts organic producers who adhere to the strict standards on an uneven playing field with operations that skirt the rules yet benefit from USDA’s organic label, he said.