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USA: OTA blasts USDA withdrawal of organic animal welfare rule

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Animal welfare is one of the elementary claims of organic farming. Photo_EU Commission

Animal welfare is one of the elementary claims of organic farming. Photo_EU Commission

The North American Organic Trade Association (OTA) strongly condemned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) regulation. The Association calls action “egregious", and says battle will continue in court. The OLPP final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, and the government has now attempted six times – either through the rule-making process or through court filings - to delay the implementation of the rule.

In a press release OTA is saying the Department had – without regard for public comment and without respect for legal authorities - irresponsibly thwarted a fully vetted regulation overwhelmingly supported by the organic industry and the public. The association said it is intensifying its efforts in the courts to resolve the issue, and that it will be immediately amending its official complaint against USDA to challenge the Department’s latest attempt to kill the rule. The Organic Trade Association noted that earlier it requested that oral arguments now be heard on its lawsuit against USDA over the Department’s failure to put into effect the new organic livestock standards.

“This most recent egregious attempt by the Department to ignore the will of the organic industry and consumers does not halt our judicial review, but, in fact, furthers our resolve,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “USDA’s unconscionable action does not deter us. USDA is hoping this issue will go away, but this latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation.”

72,000 call on USDA to implement the rule…50 say no

In its notice to withdraw the rule, USDA recognizes that the Department received roughly 72,000 comments (in a truncated comment period during the holiday season) with an overwhelming majority supporting OLPP. USDA also recognizes that of those comments, only approximately 50 supported the withdrawal.

The OLPP addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport, and slaughter. The rule refines and clarifies a series of organic animal welfare recommendations incorporated into the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established the federal organic regulations. Most importantly, it stops the use of “porches” from being allowed in organic poultry production. This is a critical clarification of the existing organic standards, and levels the playing field for organic poultry producers.

“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,” added Batcha. “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.”

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