Organic food lobby blasts US agency for organic chemical rules

13 March 2018

The lobby for US organic food producers on Monday strongly criticised the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulation, saying the department had – without regard for public comment and without respect for legal authorities - "irresponsibly thwarted a fully vetted regulation overwhelmingly supported by the organic industry and the public."

The The Organic Trade Association (OTA) said it is intensifying its efforts in the courts to resolve the issue, and that it will be immediately amending its official complaint against USDA to challenge the department's latest attempt to kill the rule.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America.

The OTA noted that last week it requested oral arguments now be heard on its lawsuit against USDA over the department's failure to put into effect the new organic livestock standards.

''This most recent egregious attempt by the Department to ignore the will of the organic industry and consumers does not halt our judicial review, but, in fact, furthers our resolve,'' said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the OTA.

''USDA's unconscionable action does not deter us. USDA is hoping this issue will go away, but this latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation.''

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule was published on 19 January 2017.

USDA has proposed complete withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule, providing only 30 days for public comment.

The Trump government has attempted six times – either by amending the rule or through court filings - to delay the implementation of the rule. 

The Organic Trade Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture over its failure to put into effect new organic livestock and poultry regulations

In its notice to withdraw the rule, USDA accepted that it received roughly 72,000 comments "in a truncated comment period during the holiday season", with an overwhelming majority supporting OLPP.

USDA said it also accepted that of those comments, only approximately 50 supported the withdrawal.

The OTA called it yet another clear disregard of the record by USDA in its latest attempt to kill this final rule.

USDA is withdrawing the rule, saying it exceeds USDA's statutory authority. USDA claimed that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) does not authorise the animal welfare provisions of the OLPP final rule, and, in doing so, cites definitions of organic outside the law.

''It is notable that USDA cites the Merriam-Webster dictionary to justify a definition of 'organic,''' said Batcha. ''Merriam-Webster also defines outdoor as 'not enclosed; having no roof,' and porches as 'a covered area…having a separate roof.' Organic standards already require that organic producers provide their animals access to the outdoors. So, by the assessment from Merriam-Webster, a source which USDA endorses in its official notice, porches are clearly not allowed in organic.''

The OLPP addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices - living conditions, animal healthcare, transport, and slaughter. The rule refines and clarifies a series of organic animal welfare recommendations incorporated into the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established the federal organic regulations.

Most importantly, it stops the use of ''porches'' from being allowed in organic poultry production. This is a critical clarification of the existing organic standards, and levels the playing field for organic poultry producers.

''Since the filing of our lawsuit last September, a host of organic stakeholders representing thousands of organic farming families, organic certifiers and organic policymakers – along with leading animal welfare and retail groups speaking out for millions of consumers - have joined our challenge,'' added Batcha. ''The organic sector depends on USDA to set organic standards fairly and according to the law. When USDA fails to do this, it is time for the organic community to insist that it live up to its responsibility.''

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