I’m not inclined to use inflammatory headlines, but this is really ruffling my feathers. On December 18th the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its intention to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule. This action defies the very process Congress mandated for the organic seal. It represents a full assault on the integrity of the organic label.
What’s all the kerfuffle about?
When I purchase organic dairy, meat and eggs, I assume a few things about how the animals were raised. I believe organic chickens should have access to the outdoors with space to move and flap and scratch as their chicken hearts are want to do. Organic should mean that animals on farms are protected from potentially harmful procedures like tail docking of cows and unrestricted beak trimming on birds. It’s what I expect the organic label means.
I also possess a fair understanding of the process that was laid down in the original Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). In it, Congress mandated that an advisory board should hold public meetings and make changes to the regulations through transparent stakeholder involvement and public input.
The animal welfare rule (OLPP) came about over more than a decade of transparent deliberations and prodigious public comments. In 2011 the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) unanimously adopted a final detailed set of animal welfare recommendations. They defined and incorporated humane production practices including healthcare, outdoor access and livestock living conditions. Since that meeting, there have been economic analyses and 14 years of public input and debate.
The Obama administration signed it into law last January, and when the Trump administration took over, they delayed its implementation asking for yet more comments.
Out of the 47,000 public comments submitted to USDA, only 28 wanted to withdraw the rule.
Why would the USDA withdraw a final rule with such overwhelming support?
All agencies under the Trump administration are being urged to cut back on regulatory spending, and this rule is one they intend to take to the chopping block.
And foremost, a few of the biggest and most powerful egg producers are producing “organic” eggs outside of the new standard; they want to continue doing so without making expensive infrastructure changes. Those large producers have put extreme pressure on the USDA to withdraw the rule.
The USDA contends that the rule is outside of the department’s statutory authority and went “beyond the intent” of the federal law that created the organic program.
This decision is tragic for animals and calamitous for organic!
ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker commented, “With this action, the USDA is abandoning the most significant federal standard governing animal welfare on farms ever written, making farm animals more vulnerable to cruelty and suffering while protecting deceptive industry practices that only increase those threats.”
The organic seal represents a meaningful differentiation from other agricultural practices. If these differences are able to be swept aside by the whims of one economic sector, what will happen when other new regulations are introduced or considered? If someone wants to be organic but not abide by the regulations, should USDA step in and bow to their wishes?
Laura Batcha, CEO, Organic Trade Association, stated, “The organic sector does not take for granted the trust of the consumers we serve, and we work hard every single day to maintain it. Organic is an opt-in regulated marketing program that ensures products bearing the USDA organic seal meet strict consistently applied standards and provide the consumer a meaningful choice. The future of the organic market rests on consumer trust, and the organic sector depends on the USDA to set organic standards fairly and according to the law.”
While you are still feting the New Year, take the time to push back. The timeline to make further comments is intentionally short, and the 30-day comment window is rapidly flying by.
If you give a cluck, go on the record to defend organic! Tell the Trump Administration that you oppose the withdrawal of organic animal welfare standards. You can submit your COMMENTS HERE.
Next, take to social media and spread the word!
The Organic Trade Association makes it easy to comment and Spread the Word. Get your friends and family to comment!
You can also join the ASPCA’s Advocacy Brigade to get the latest updates on how you can fight to save the Organic animal welfare rule!
Marty Irby, a senior adviser at Humane Society Legislative Fund, indicated, “We will continue to explain the importance of this comprehensive set of animal welfare regulations to the Trump administration and members of Congress.”