by George Looby, DVM
In keeping with the Trump administration’s goal of reducing and eliminating as many existing rules and regulations as possible, the USDA has announced that it plans to withdraw certain rules that pertain to organically raised livestock. The USDA plans to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule establishing animal welfare standards for organic agriculture. As is customary in such proposals, comments from the public are invited to ensure that everyone with an interest in the subject have an opportunity to express an opinion. The deadline for such comments is Jan. 18, 2018.
The department has stated that the OLPP would exceed its regulatory authority by ruling on health care practices. It further stated that withdrawal of the OLPP is justified based on the USDA’s revised assessments of its benefits and burdens and the USDA’s view of sound regulatory policy.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA), a spokes group for the organic movement, expressed its displeasure with the action and immediately amended its lawsuit filed in September to force implementation of the rule. The group stated that it makes no sense for the Trump administration to pursue actions that would damage a marketplace giving American farmers a profitable alternative, creating jobs and improving the economies of rural areas. Most striking is the administration’s continued confusion that organic standards are mandatory rather than voluntary. The OLPP was put in place at the end of the Obama administration and its requirements stated that animals be allowed to exhibit natural behavior — that they have the ability to sit, walk, stretch and stand without touching other animals or the sides of a pen, as well as having free and clear access to the outside. Compliance with this list was necessary to receive organic certification. The response from various parties was interesting. Of more than 47,000 replies received, the majority wanted the rule to be implemented.
Not surprisingly, conventional livestock groups supported the ruling to remove the OLPP. The National Pork Producers Council expressed the opinion that the original rules were not based on science and were outside the scope of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. They further stated that animal production practices have nothing to do with the basic concept of organic and that the organic certification process would become more complex if the rule were in place.
Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and he said he was happy that the USDA had listened to his concerns. He stated in a news release, “With USDA’s wise decision to withdraw this rule organic livestock and poultry producers can rest assured that they will not be forced out of business by another costly and burdensome regulation.”
If the OLPP rule goes into effect it is projected to be especially costly to organic egg and poultry farmers. One rather recent projection estimated that it would cost that group between 8.2 million and 31 million per year for each of the first five years to comply. During 2015, the sales of organic eggs amounted to $670 million and the sale of organic poultry totaled $494 million with the projection being that sales will continue to rise. The demand for organic products continues to increase. The OTA released findings in 2017 that over 80 percent of the country’s 117 million households are serving some level of organic produce.
As with most acts of this type there are some groups who stand in favor of its implementation while others do not. It is possible that if the support groups for the existing rule prevail the courts may have to settle the issue.