The Department of Agriculture plans to withdraw another Obama administration regulation impacting the livestock industry, this time choosing to pull language setting animal welfare standards in organic agriculture.
The rules – the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices – were issued in January, just days before President Donald Trump took office. But a regulatory freeze slowed their implementation, and the department just last month further delayed the effective date while challenging the legal footing for the regulations.
The language perhaps drawing the most attention set required thresholds for indoor and outdoor access for poultry and removed enclosed porches from qualifying square footage. Critics of the OLPP said the outdoor requirements were contrary to biosecurity concerns.
In documentation expected to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, USDA says the rule in question “would exceed USDA’s statutory authority,” which it interprets to be limited to health care practices.
“Withdrawal of the OLPP also is independently justified based upon USDA’s revised assessments of its benefits and burdens and USDA’s view of sound regulatory policy,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.
The Organic Trade Association has already filed suit to force implantation of the rules, and the group is now “dismayed” at USDA’s decision to withdraw. The group says withdrawal is “a groundless step” that goes against “nearly universal support” from organic producers and consumers.
“It makes no sense that the Trump Administration would pursue actions that could damage a marketplace that is giving American farmers a profitable alternative, creating jobs, and improving the economies of our rural areas,” OTA added. “Most striking is the administration’s continued confusion that organic standards are mandatory rather than voluntary.”
Conventional livestock groups were opposed to the rules, saying they skewed too heavily in the direction of consumer perception. Biosecurity and animal health concerns were also part of the opposition conversation. In a statement, Ken Maschhoff, president of the National Pork Producers Council, thanked the administration "for listening to our concerns with the rule and recognizing the serious challenges it would have presented our producers."
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., applauded USDA’s decision.
“With USDA’s wise decision to withdraw this rule, organic livestock and poultry producers can rest assured that they will not be forced out of business by another costly and burdensome regulation,” said Roberts.
“Having fought this unwanted and unneeded regulation from the beginning, I’m pleased to see the Trump administration listening to my concerns, along with the concerns of organic livestock and poultry producers across the country. Together, we warned USDA of the unintended consequences of this rule, but our concerns fell on deaf ears in the previous administration. The rule was finalized two days before leaving office, despite its serious potential to force organic livestock and poultry producers out of business, increase prices paid by consumers for organic food, and increase animal disease and mortality. By withdrawing this rule, the Trump administration is again demonstrating its commitment to de-regulate rural America.”
(Story updated at 5:40 p.m. EST to include additional comment.)