The Organic Trade Association this week ratcheted up its court battle against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the agency’s failure to put into effect new organic livestock standards, with two of America’s most influential animal welfare groups joining the association in its ongoing legal fight to uphold the integrity of organic standards.
In a new filing that revised the original complaint against USDA to reflect the department’s move to withdraw the rule, the Organic Trade Association was joined by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) as co-plaintiffs in the suit.
USDA on March 13 announced its intention to withdraw the final regulation on May 13, contending that the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) gives the National Organic Program the authority to regulate only veterinary medications, not animal care, welfare or production standards. The Organic Trade Association’s amended complaint — filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — argues that this new claim by USDA is a “novel and erroneous” view of OFPA that “conflicts with every prior administration’s approach to rulemaking under the OFPA and the National Organic Standards Board.”
“We welcome the critical support of our friends in the animal welfare community in standing up against the Administration’s attack on this important organic standard,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “In USDA’s attempt to kill this fully vetted final regulation, they’ve taken a radical departure from conclusions reached over more than 20 years of rulemakings regarding organic livestock care, and have assumed an aberrant view that has no historical basis or legal justification.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is North America’s oldest humane organization with roughly 2.7 million supporters nationwide. The Animal Welfare Institute is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people, and has sought to improve the welfare of farm animals since the early 1950s.
The Organic Trade Association is also challenging USDA’s assertion that it does not have to consult with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) — the advisory board to the National Organic Program established by OFPA – before withdrawing the regulation.
“The organic standard-making process established by Congress requires consultation with the National Organic Standards Board to make or amend existing organic standards,” said Batcha. “The day the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final regulation was published, it became the regulation of the National Organic Program. Withdrawal of this regulation requires NOSB’s consultation and review.”
The Organic Trade Association said that USDA continues to flagrantly disregard and refuse to consider the overwhelming support from the public for the organic animal welfare rule.
“USDA knows the public overwhelmingly supports the implementation of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) regulation. Indeed, in its announcement to withdraw the rule, USDA noted that out of the 72,000 comments it received, over 63,000 opposed the withdrawal of the final rule, and that only 50 supported its withdrawal,” said Batcha. “But despite the clear evidence of the public sentiment, USDA is acting against the will of the public, and the will of the organic sector.”
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. Before the final withdrawal, the government had attempted six times – either through the rulemaking process or through court filings — to delay the implementation of the rule.
The regulation addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport, and slaughter. Most importantly, it stops the use of “porches” from being allowed in organic poultry production and requires producers to give their poultry access to the outdoors.
The Organic Trade Association filed its lawsuit against USDA last September over the department’s delays in the implementation of the OLPP regulation. The lawsuit argues that USDA violated the Organic Foods Production Act by failing to consult with NOSB on the rollback of the final organic standard, and unlawfully delayed the effective date of the final livestock standards developed by industry and in accordance with the established rulemaking processes. The suit also argues that USDA issued its repeated delays without the required public process, and that USDA ignored the overwhelming public record established in support of these organic standards. Those arguments still stand.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, support for the legal action against USDA has grown. A host of organic stakeholders representing thousands of organic farming families, organic certifiers and organic policymakers – along with leading retail brands and groups speaking out for millions of consumers — have supported the suit as declarants harmed by the USDA action. The declarants include:
In addition to the lawsuit’s co-plaintiffs, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a separate lawsuit on Jan. 12 against USDA for withdrawing the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulation. HSUS is the largest animal protection group in the country with some 10 million members.
“Support for our lawsuit is rapidly growing,” said Batcha. “Being organic is a choice, and all of our organic stakeholders – from farmers to retailers – work hard every day to voluntarily abide by organic standards. They want clear consistent standards. Consumers want clear consistent organic standards. We call upon the government to act responsibly as the steward of our federal organic program. That is what the organic community wants, what consumers expect and what the law mandates.”
View the complete amended complaint from the Organic Trade Association.
Golden Valley Natural is celebrating 50 years of quality jerky products. Originally known as King B Jerky in Idaho Falls, the regional jerky company grew into a national brand in the 1980s after Founder Roger Ball commandeered his wife’s blender to make the first batch of “Shredded Jerky Stuff.” The family-owned jerky company became a leader in the meat snacks industry.
In 2000, Roger and his family sold the King B label to a competitor. The family ranches shifted to all-natural and organic production methodologies, giving birth to a new company – Golden Valley Natural.
Golden Valley Natural specializes in beef, buffalo, turkey, chicken and pork meat snacks, with an emphasis on all-natural and organic products. Its ‘healthier-for-you’ meat snacks rang true with consumers, who buy their products nationwide and in both Canada and Japan. Today, the company continues to grow and produce some of the finest all-natural, organic, gluten free, grass-fed and non-GMO jerky available in the industry.
By Lorrie Baumann
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it is withdrawing the animal welfare regulation it had delayed three times. The rule would have established animal welfare standards that would have applied to the producers of organic livestock and eggs. The regulation was proposed in the waning days of the Obama administration after the completion of a rulemaking process that included extensive public comments, which were overwhelmingly in favor of adopting the new standards. In the opposite camp was the National Pork Producers Council, which applauded the USDA action. The USDA delayed the rule following the inauguration of the Trump administration, and then delayed it further. Before the final withdrawal, the rule had been scheduled to take effect in May and would have applied only to products bearing the USDA-certified organic seal.
The Obama-era regulation – the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule – would have incorporated into the National Organic Program welfare standards that were not based on science and that were outside the scope of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, according to the National Pork Producers Council, which maintains that the Organic Food Production Act limited consideration of livestock as organic to feeding and medication practices.
“We’d like to thank Sec. Perdue and the Trump administration for listening to our concerns with the rule and recognizing the serious challenges it would have presented our producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Illinois.
The rule would have required that poultry must be housed in spaces that are big enough for the birds to move freely, stretch their wings, stand normally and engage in natural behaviors. Livestock, including poultry, would have been required to have access to outdoor space year-round. The rule would have banned the current practice, followed by some poultry producers, of confining birds to barns with a screened porch as their only access to the outdoors.
NPPC maintains that animal production practices have nothing to do with the basic concept of “organic.” The Organic Trade Association begs to differ. “USDA wrongly alleges that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) does not authorize the animal welfare provisions of the OLPP final rule, and, in doing so, cites definitions of organic outside the law,” the organization said in a statement.
“It is notable that USDA cites the Merriam-Webster dictionary to justify a definition of ‘organic,'” said Organic Trade Association CEO and Executive Director Laura 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 Organic Trade Association has filed suit in an attempt to force the USDA to implement the rule and will now be amending its complaint to challenge this new USDA action. “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,” Batcha said. “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.”