The Trump administration is further delaying new animal-welfare standards for organic livestock and poultry production, and USDA officials are raising concerns about the legal and economic justification for the regulations developed under the Obama administration.

The effective date of the rule, which had already been delayed until Nov. 14, is now being extended to May 14, 2018.

According to a notice posted Thursday by USDA, the department's Agricultural Marketing Service believes the Obama administration went too far in using a section of the Organic Foods Production Act to justify regulating animal welfare practices. AMS says USDA’s legal authority appears limited to regulating health-care practices. 

The notice also says the rule “may not represent the most innovative and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends; may impose costs that are not justified by the potential benefits; and may not reasonably be tethered to OFPA’s statutory text, nature, and purpose.”

The Organic Trade Association has already filed suit to force the administration to implement the rule.

OTA “will continue to fight to uphold organic standards, that this Administration continues to willfully ignore by repeatedly delaying this fully vetted and final voluntary organic standard,” the group said in a statement. “We will see the department in court and are confident that we will prevail on this important issue for the organic sector."

The Humane Society of the United States also was critical of the delay. “This series of deferrals is nothing but a sop to big agricultural interests threatened by the notion that ‘organic’ products will be perceived as superior to conventionally produced animal products,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, in his blog today.

Among other things, the rule would require organic laying hens to be given time outdoors on ground or grass. Many farms now limit the birds’ outdoor time to covered porches. Defenders of the practice say it better protects the birds from disease and that many organic farms don’t have the necessary land to allow hens to roam outdoors. 

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, praised USDA for further delaying the standards.

The rule “goes far beyond the scope of the National Organic Program, threatening animal health and food safety, and jeopardizing the livelihoods of numerous farmers and ranchers," Conaway said.

“While I believe withdrawing this costly and unworkable regulation is the best way to provide certainty to livestock and poultry producers across the nation, I do appreciate that (Agriculture Secretary Sonny) Perdue and his team are taking extra time to evaluate the full implications of the rule."