The USDA announced its intent to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule (“organics rule”) from the national organic program. This rule, which has been under consideration for more than ten years, was approved as a final rulemaking action by the executive branch at the beginning of 2017 with overwhelming support from organic livestock producers and consumers alike.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Today’s announcement is a subversion of comprehensive federal animal welfare standards approved by the USDA, and it will prove crippling to family farmers all across the nation who treat their animals well and want to be able to market their products under an authentic ‘organic’ label. We are appalled by this action, and plan to mount a major effort to reverse a decision that will contribute to hollowing out rural communities and that will allow factory farmers to trick the public and sell their products at a premium under a deficient organic label.”
The new Administration has delayed the rule’s implementation three times since it was adopted in January prior to today’s announcement that the USDA intends to kill off the program in its entirety. Family farmers have been advocating for the elements in the final rulemaking approved earlier this year for two decades. These farmers opt in to the program, and no one forces them to participate in the organic program.
In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act to “assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard.” The statute directed the USDA to establish national standards for products using the “organic” label, and it called on the National Organic Standards Board to recommend requirements “for the care of livestock.” The NOSB unanimously favored the rule that the USDA has now pulled. Despite the USDA’s newly claimed confusion over its statutory authority to establish livestock standards, the Act has long been interpreted to include animal welfare considerations, and the 2017 organics rule is consistent with congressional intent.
This rule would allow farmers who use more humane and sustainable practices to get a return on their investment by marketing their products to consumers willing to pay a bit more to eat safer, more humanely produced animal products. “Farmers and consumers opt into this program, and the USDA has a simple role: develop fair, science-based standards,” added Pacelle. “Instead, the agency has bowed to Big Ag and scuttled a program that every key stakeholder in the organic space wanted. This is a political manifestation of the swamp at work.”
The organics industry—including animal products and fruits and vegetables—generates nearly $50 billion in sales annually and is a key component of the agricultural economy.
Starting this Monday, December 18, the public will have 30 days to submit their feedback on the withdrawal of the rules. Instructions for submitting comments can be found at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2017-27316.pdf (PDF).