WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will reconsider the Trump administration’s position that the Organic Foods Production Act does not authorize USDA to regulate the practices included in the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule.
“I have directed the National Organic Program to begin a rulemaking to address this statutory interpretation and to include a proposal to disallow the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production over time and on other topics that were the subject of the OLPP final rule,” Vilsack said. “We anticipate sending the proposed rule to OMB within six to nine months from the date of the remand. We look forward to receiving public comments on those topics and, after reviewing the comments, USDA will publish a final rule.”
The prior administration withdrew the final OLPP rule in March 2018. In April, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and a group of co-plaintiffs challenged the USDA’s view that the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) does not give the National Organic Program the authority to regulate animal care, welfare or production standards. The groups also disagreed with the agency’s conclusion that the OLPP final rule exceeded the USDA’s statutory authority and would have negatively impacted voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.
On June 18, the OTA filed a motion for summary judgment asking the US District Court for the District of Columbia to immediately vacate USDA’s withdrawal of the OLPP final rule, and to order the agency to reinstate the organic animal welfare regulation that was published in the closing days of Vilsack’s prior tenure at USDA.
“Organic egg farmers who are doing the right thing to give their poultry real outdoor access and raise their animals according to the highest standards are continuing to be exposed to economic harm from unfair competition every day that the Trump administration’s rescission of the organic animal welfare rule is allowed to stay in place,” said Laura Batcha, OTA chief executive officer and executive director.
“While we welcome Secretary Vilsack’s statement that the department will re-evaluate the prior administration’s withdrawal of the fully vetted organic animal welfare regulation and affirmed its commitment to outdoor access for laying hens, the policy statement alone won’t guarantee a swift end to this harm. We need to have a legal ruling,” she said.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which is a co-plaintiff in the OTA lawsuit, applauded Vilsack’s announcement.
“We’re encouraged to see the USDA committing to take urgently needed action to address inconsistencies and loopholes in the National Organic Program that have put the lives and welfare of millions of animals at risk,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO. “This program should be protecting animals raised on organic farms — not allowing cruel farming practices and obscuring the truth about how these animals are raised — and the ASPCA is dedicated to ensuring the USDA’s welfare standards are meaningful for animals and meet public expectations.”