Organic Industry Leaders Speak Out in Support of OTA’s Lawsuit Against USDA

Source: Presence Marketing News, November 2017
Author: Steven Hoffman, Compass Natural Marketing

On January 19, 2017, one day before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, organic industry and animal welfare advocates hailed the release by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) new Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rules – the result of a 14-year-long process that would require organic farms to follow improved animal welfare practices. The rule addressed four areas of organic livestock and poultry production, including requiring humane living conditions, animal healthcare, transport and slaughter.

The next day, however, on January 20, the new administration ordered a freeze on all new or pending federal regulations, and delayed implementation of the OLPP rules under the National Organic Program (NOP). In May, USDA asked for additional public input on whether it should enact the rule, suspend it, delay it, or withdraw it. During this new 30-day comment period, USDA received more than 47,000 comments, 99% of which were in support of implementing the new rules by November 14, 2017.

After hearing nothing from USDA since then, on September 13, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) filed a lawsuit against USDA saying it has a duty to protect and advance the U.S. organic sector, and that USDA is in violation of The Organic Food Products Act and the Administrative Procedure Act for its delay of the Organic Livestock Rule. OTA is asking the District Court for the District of Columbia to reverse USDA’s decision to delay and eliminate options proposed to further delay, rewrite or permanently shelve the rule—thereby making the final livestock rule effective immediately, as written.

“In a 60-day period in Spring 2017, the USDA received more than 45,000 positive public comments from farmers, consumers and food producers, agreeing with proposed rules to improve animal welfare, particularly increased pasture access for poultry. Its customers—the public—have spoken, but unfortunately, it seems, they have not been heard,” wrote Matthew Dillon, Clif Bar’s Director of Agricultural Policy and Programs, on September 26 in New Hope Network’s IdeaXchange. “Instead, USDA is listening to a few massive egg producers that want to increase sales into organic markets but not incur the costs of higher animal welfare standards,” he added.

Longtime organic industry leader Gary Hirshberg, Cofounder and Chair of Stonyfield Farm, also spoke out in support of OTA’s lawsuit. “Maintaining the integrity of organic standards, and the consumer trust that we in the organic community work hard every day to earn, demands constant vigilance,” he wrote on October 16 in New Hope’s IdeaXchange. “That’s why the recent legal action by the Organic Trade Association against the federal government over yet another delay in enacting the organic livestock regulations is so critical, and why it deserves the support of all organic stakeholders.”

“The organic industry takes very seriously its contract with the consumer and will not stand aside while the government holds back the meaningful and transparent choice of organic foods that deliver what the consumer wants,” said OTA Executive Director Laura Batcha in a release. “The government’s failure to move ahead with this fully vetted regulation calls into question the entire process by which organic regulations are set—a process that Congress created, the industry has worked within, and consumers trust.”