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Organic Trade Association Suing USDA Over Failure to Enact Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Chicken in a coop (Photo Credit Edwin Remsberg).

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On September 13, 2017, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia regarding the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule. The rule amends the existing organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions, and expands and clarifies existing requirements covering livestock care, production practices, and living conditions. Check out this past post for more detail on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule.

The rule was published in the Federal Register on January 19, 2017 and would have been effective sixty (60) days later, March 20. Due to the regulatory freeze issued by the White House to federal agencies, however, the effective date was delayed to May 19, 2017.

On May 10, 2017, citing “significant policy and legal issues” warranting further review by the USDA, the effective date of the rule was delayed again by an additional six months to November 14, 2017. USDA also opened a 30-day comment period asking for responses to four possible options for the Final Rule: (1) let the rule become effective, with an effective date of November 14, 2017; (2) suspend the rule indefinitely, during which time USDA would consider whether to implement, modify, or withdraw the Final Rule, (3) delay the effective date of the rule beyond November 14, or (4) withdraw the rule.

OTA’s suit alleges the USDA unlawfully delayed the effective date of the rule and in so doing violated both the Organic Foods Production Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. OTA further contends that the regulatory freeze should not apply to organic standards because they are voluntary and are required only of those farms and businesses opting in to be certified organic.

According to a recent article in Civil Eats, those opposing the rule, including egg producers, object to the rule prohibiting enclosed areas called porches from qualifying as outdoor access. Rule supporters say that higher standards are needed because it is what customers expect from organic producers.

According to Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the OTA, “We are standing up on behalf of the entire organic sector to protect organic integrity, advance animal welfare, and demand the government keep up with the industry and the consumer in setting organic standards.”

The lawsuit and other recent legal issues surrounding organic farming will be featured at the upcoming Agriculture and Environmental Law Conference, hosted by ALEI, on November 17. Click here to register.

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