WASHINGTON – The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has once again condemned the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) for its third delay of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule. The rule will be pushed back until May 14, 2018, according to a USDA document

The final rule was first published in the Federal Register on Jan. 19, 2017. It was delayed until May 10, 2017, after the White House Memorandum to federal agencies requesting a regulatory freeze on rules recently published or pending. Then on May 10, 2017, the USDA delayed the effective date for the final rule to Nov. 14, 2017.

In September, several animal rights groups filed a lawsuit against the USDA alleging that final organic livestock practices were developed by the organic industry and established in accordance with Congressional processes and that USDA unlawfully delayed the effective date of the standards and violated the Organic Foods Production act.

“We share the disappointment and frustration felt by many farmers, retailers, health and animal advocates, consumers, and the National Organic Standards Board over the USDA’s choice to put corporate interests ahead of responsible farming, consumer rights, and animal welfare,” Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of ASPCA said in a statement. This delay is another example of powerful agribusiness entities trampling vital animal welfare protections.”

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Production rule, commonly referred to as the Organic Animal Welfare Rule, was developed 14 years ago and has been through multiple presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, reflecting input from organic stakeholders. It addresses living conditions, animal healthcare, transport and slaughter and serves to represent a series of organic animal welfare recommendations incorporated into the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

The rule:

• Establishes minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for poultry,

• Clarifies how producers and handlers must treat livestock and chickens to ensure their health and well-being throughout life, including transport and slaughter,

• Specifies which physical alterations are allowed and prohibited in organic livestock and poultry production,

• Provides more than ample timelines for producers to come into compliance including:

                    -five years to establish outdoor access requirements for egg operations

                    -three years for broiler operations to establish indoor space requirements

                    -one year for all other adjustments.

• Levels the playing field by clarifying the existing organic standards.

After delaying the rule again on May 10, the USDA opened the rule up for public comment. According to the Organic Trade Association, more than 47,000 comments were received during the 30-day comment period, with 99 percent of those comments in support of the rule becoming effective as written without further delays.

These were the available options:

(1) Let the rule become effective, which would mean the rule would become effective on Nov. 14, 2017;

(2) Suspend the rule indefinitely, during which time the Agriculture Department would consider whether to implement, modify or withdraw the Final Rule,

(3) Delay the effective date of the rule further, beyond Nov. 14,

(4) Withdraw the rule.