July 29, 2021

USDA To Re-Examine Organic Livestock Rule

USDA To Re-Examine Organic Livestock Rule

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a statement regarding the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule. The OLPP sets production standards for organic livestock and poultry, including raising, transport, and slaughter. In 2017, the Trump Administration reversed the OLPP. The OLPP rule would have increased the federal regulation of livestock and poultry for certified organic producers and handlers. It specified that organic farmers should provide more space for pigs and broilers and outdoor access for laying hens and broiler chickens.

“We intend to reconsider the prior Administration’s interpretation that the Organic Foods Production Act does not authorize USDA to regulate the practices that were the subject of the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule,” Vilsack said in a press release. “I have directed the National Organic Program to begin a rulemaking to address this statutory interpretation and to include a proposal to disallow the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production over time and on other topics that were the subject of the OLPP final rule. We anticipate sending the proposed rule to OMB (Office of Management and Budget) within six to nine months from the date of the remand. We look forward to receiving public comments on those topics and, after reviewing the comments, USDA will publish a final rule.”

In addition to this, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has asked U.S. District Judge Paul Freidman to order the USDA to reinstate a 2017 regulation setting welfare standards for organic livestock. The regulation, stating that enclosed porches do not satisfy the organic agriculture requirement to provide daily outdoor access for livestock, is a way to decrease the competition organic farmers experience.

“We need a legal ruling,” said OTA chief executive Laura Batcha. “While we welcome Secretary Vilsack’s statement last week,” referring to the OLPP final rule announcement, “the policy statement doesn’t guarantee a swift end to this harm.” The USDA now has 30 days, as of June 18th, to respond to the motion filed by OTA. 

If the USDA agrees to the motion, then Judge Friedman would return the regulation to the USDA for review. The USDA would then address the Trump Administration’s decision that it had no power to implement the animal welfare rule. The new rule also would disallow porches as outdoor access for poultry, and it would cover other topics that were part of the original humane treatment rule.

Batcha stated that organic egg farmers “who are doing the right thing to give their poultry real outdoor access and raise their animals according to the highest standards are continuing to be exposed to economic harm from unfair competition every day that the Trump administration’s rescission of the organic animal welfare rule is allowed to stay in place.”