WASHINGTON, May 24, 2017 – Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, says that USDA should follow public sentiment on a proposal that would alter animal welfare requirements in organic production.
USDA published a final rule on organic livestock and poultry practices in January, before Donald Trump was sworn in as president. Implementation was delayed in February when the White House ordered a review of regulations finalized in the closing days of the Obama administration. The rule is now set to go into effect in November, but USDA is accepting public comments on its future until June 9.
Batcha, speaking to reporters Wednesday in Washington, said that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, in considering whether the rule should be allowed to take effect, should seriously consider the more than 12,000 comments that have been submitted. She says the majority support enacting the new standards.
“The secretary only needs to follow the Federal Register in order to make a decision that represents the vast, vast majority of interest on the subject rather than a short handful of special interests on the subject,” Batcha said as OTA opened its policy conference in the nation’s capital.
The rule would clarify animal welfare standards in the organic sector, requiring things like more outdoor access in poultry production to better align organic production requirements with consumer expectations.
The rule has generated fierce opposition from livestock groups and in some quarters on Capitol Hill. Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said when the rule was released that it “has serious potential to force organic farmers and ranchers out of business.” Debbie Stabenow of Minnesota, the committee’s top Democrat, said at the time she was “disappointed” in the rule.
Livestock groups have been particularly vocal in their opposition. John Weber, with the National Pork Producers Council, called the rule an “unnecessary, unscientific midnight regulation.” NPPC and other groups have expressed concern about the principle of setting animal welfare standards based on consumer perception.
But Batcha says that’s missing the point. If the groups are concerned about how stricter organic animal welfare standards could make conventional production appear, she says stopping this rule won’t change the problem of consumer perception.
“I think all industries have to talk to the consumer and educate folks and make their case,” Batcha said. “Holding back an organic standard and a market is not a solution to a communication problem with your consumer.”
Also on Wednesday, OTA rolled out a report showing a banner 2016 for organic food sales in the U.S., hitting a record $43 billion, up from $39.7 billion in 2015. Those sales are primarily driven by $15.6 billion in organic produce, but the organic protein sector also shot up 17 percent – the category’s biggest year-over-year gain ever observed – to $991 million.
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