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Organic Trade Association asks Court to reinstate organic animal welfare standards

Association says organic egg farmers are being exposed to ongoing harm

Maggie McNeil
(
mmcneil@ota.com
(202) 403-8514
(202) 615-7997
)
Washington , DC
US
 (
June 21, 2021
) — 

The Organic Trade Association has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to immediately vacate the Department of Agriculture’s 2018 withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule, and to order USDA to reinstate the organic animal welfare regulation that was published in the closing days of Sec. Tom Vilsack’s prior tenure at USDA.

“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,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association.

“While we welcome Secretary Vilsack’s statement last week* that the department will re-evaluate the prior administration’s withdrawal of the fully vetted organic animal welfare regulation, and affirmed its commitment to outdoor access for laying hens, the policy statement alone won’t guarantee a swift end to this harm. We need to have a legal ruling,” stressed Batcha.

Contradiction of Congressional intent, violations of law and flawed economic analysis

In its motion for summary judgment filed on June 18, the trade association argued that USDA fundamentally dismissed the intent of Congress regarding the department’s authority over organic animal welfare, failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) which governs the process by which federal agencies develop and issue regulations, and buried the economic benefits of the OLPP regulation while inflating its costs.

The association argued that USDA’s “novel and erroneous construction” of the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) and its refusal to exercise the statutory authority given by Congress to USDA by OFPA to promote improved livestock care practices on organic farms were a radical departure from past administrations, and contradict the intent of Congress in OFPA.

The association argued that USDA’s refusal to consult with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in rescinding the final regulation violates the OFPA’s requirement to consult with NOSB prior to rulemaking on organic.

“With regard to livestock, Congress gave the NOSB a specific role regarding the development of organic livestock regulations. … Congress intended the NOSB to be at the center of the development of all organic program requirements,” the filing stated.

Finally, the association stated that USDA’s actions were based on a flawed economic analysis, which the agency failed to correct, even after a nine-month remand granted to the agency to correct its analysis.

“Despite more than nine months of delay in the case, the Department did not produce a reliable or trustworthy cost benefit analysis,” the filing noted.

The association argued that USDA’s recognition that its faulty economic analysis minimized the benefits and erroneously overstated the costs of the OLPP requires that the withdrawal of the final regulation be rescinded: “When the agency that offered the rule undertook a cost-benefit analysis that it discards as unreliable, that rule must be vacated,” states the filing.

Continuing the fight for small- and medium-size poultry producers
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, after more than a decade of extensive public input and a thorough vetting process. USDA in March of 2018 withdrew the final OLPP regulation, which was to go into effect in May 2018. Before the withdrawal, the agency attempted six times – either through the rulemaking process or through court filings – to delay the implementation of the rule, which had been developed by the organic industry and in accordance with the established federal rulemaking process. USDA failed to consult with the National Organic Standards Board on the withdrawal of the final rule, and arbitrarily ignored the overwhelming public record established in support of these organic standards.

The Organic Trade Association filed its initial lawsuit against USDA in September 2017 over the department’s delays in implementing the final OLPP rule. The filing by the Organic Trade Association marked an important step in its battle to uphold and defend organic standards from erosion.

“The Organic Trade Association’s mission is to advance organic agriculture and protect the integrity of organic through strong, transparent and fair standards. We took on this [OLPP] fight almost four years ago, and we’ll continue to fight for those poultry producers who are working every day to not cut corners and to raise their animal organically,” said Batcha. “It looks like Secretary Vilsack agrees with us, but as long as the withdrawal of OLPP is on the books, it only exposes organic egg farmers to more harm indefinitely.”

For the complete background on this issue, see https://ota.com/livestockpractices.

*Secretary Vilsack issued a statement on Thursday that he’s directed the USDA’s National Organic Program to begin a rulemaking process to reconsider the Trump administration’s interpretation of the statutory authority given USDA by the OFPA regarding animal welfare practices, to disallow the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production over time, and to consider other topics that were the subject of the OLPP final rule.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 9,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.