OTA sues USDA to implement final rule raising animal welfare standards for organic

OTA sues USDA to implement final organic animal welfare rule

The Organic Trade Association is suing the US Department of Agriculture for repeatedly and allegedly illegally delaying and threatening to potentially suspend indefinitely the widely popular Organic Livestock and Poultry Production final rule, which was published one day before the Trump Administration took office.

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 13, the trade association argues USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by delaying the effective date of the rule beyond the initial regulatory freeze the Trump Administration instituted when it came to power, which OTA also says should not have applied to the final rule.

It explains that the original freeze by the Trump Administration, which should have lifted May 19, never should applied to the final rule aimed at raising the animal welfare standards for organic production because the rule was finalized before the administration came into office and because the organic standards are voluntary and apply to only those farms and businesses that opt to be certified organic. 

OTA argues USDA illegally added insult to this injury on May 10 when it extended the original freeze an additional six months until Nov. 14 in order to gather additional comments on whether the rule should become effective, should be suspended indefinitely, delayed beyond Nov. 14 or withdrawn completely.

The threat to indefinitely delay or kill the rule is “in stark contrast to the established public process” and an abuse of USDA’s discretion under the Administrative Procedure Act, OTA argues in a same-day release. It also argues USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the repeated delays were issued without any public process.

In addition, OTA says USDA violated the Organic Food Production Act and its consultation provisions that allow public stakeholders to revise, refine and advance organic standards through a well-defined process.

As such OTA asks the court to prohibit USDA from further delaying, rewriting or shelving the rule and thereby make it effective immediately as written.

Delays threaten foundation of organic

Failure to do make the final rule effective immediately as-is could threaten the very core of organic and consumer trust in the certification, OTA and other stakeholders add.

“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,” OTA CEO and Executive Director Laura Batch said in the 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 the Congress created, the industry worked within, and consumers trust.”

Indeed, OTA and its members worked closely with USDA for 14 years to craft the regulation according to the established rulemaking process, added Organic Valley CEO George Siemon.

“For the Administration to now let political pressure derail that progress is an assault on the trust in the organic process that the organic industry works so hard every day to earn,” he added.

“Most of the criticism of the new organic animal welfare rule has come from outside the sector, and by special interest groups not impacted by the regulation, but which would like to override the will of our members,” Batcha said in the release.

For support she pointed out that 99% of the more than 47,000 responses submitted to USDA during the most recent comment-period on the rule advocated for it to become effective without further delays Nov. 14.

Batcha added: “Producers are organic because they choose to be. It’s a voluntary system, and the organic sector welcomes clear and fair standards under which operate.”

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