Regulation Block

USDA cancels rule that would require organic livestock producers to follow specific space requirements.

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The USDA livestock rule would have required organic producers to ensure livestock had access to a certain amount of space outdoors, in addition to other handling rules for transport and slaughter, Image by Becky Mills

USDA has officially ended a rule on organic livestock and poultry practices that the Obama administration sought to implement at the end of the administration’s tenure in 2017.

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule would have required a certain amount of space--both indoors and outside--for animal or poultry products to meet National Organic Program guidelines. The rule also detailed handling for transport and slaughter.

The rule, which never took effect, was withdrawn in May. It had been put on hold when President Donald Trump took office and issued a regulatory freeze.

POTENTIAL DAMAGE. USDA officials say the OLPP exceeded the department’s statutory authority, and tightening the rules would reduce participation in the National Organic Program.

“The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” says USDA Marketing and Regulatory Program undersecretary Greg Ibach. “The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Kevin Kester praised the decision. He says the rule would have vilified producers raising nonorganic livestock.

“Not only did USDA not have the legal authority to implement animal-welfare regulations, but the rule would have also vilified conventionally raised livestock without recognizing our commitment to raise all cattle humanely, regardless of the marketing program they’re in,” Kester says. “Secretary [of Agriculture] Sonny Perdue deserves a lot of credit for yet another commonsense decision that will benefit America’s cattle producers.”

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, says livestock health and well-being are a priority for all livestock producers.

“We rely on trained professionals, including animal scientists, nutritionists and veterinarians, to ensure the health and safety of our food. The rule did not promote food safety or animal welfare. It went beyond the intent of the Organic Production Act by allowing for animal welfare standards and metrics to become part of the organic label,” Duvall believes.

“Had the rule gone into effect, forcing organic farmers and ranchers to arbitrarily change their production practices, many would have been driven out of the organic sector or out of business entirely, reducing the supply of organic food choices for America’s consumers.”

LABEL CONFUSION. On the other side of the issue, Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), says withdrawing the rule is a detriment to family farmers. He believes the USDA’s move will create confusion about the meaning of the organic label.

“USDA’s action to withdraw the OLPP rule is a mistake that will cost the family producers who already adhere to strict standards in order to meet ‘organic’ standards. It puts them on an uneven playing field with the types of operations who skirt the rules yet also benefit from the same USDA organic label.”

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, praises the USDA action.

“It’s official. The Obama administration rule that would have jeopardized the livelihood of organic livestock and poultry producers is gone,” Roberts says. “America’s organic livestock and poultry producers can now breathe easy that they can maintain the health of their flocks and herds the best way they see fit, and they will not be driven out of business by another government regulation. I thank Secretary Perdue for listening to their concerns and withdrawing this damaging rule.”

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) still seeks a day in court about its litigation against USDA over the livestock rules. The OTA argues that USDA chose to roll back the livestock and poultry rules without consulting the National Organic Standards Board. USDA, the group says, also repeatedly delayed the rule and “arbitrarily ignored the overwhelming public record established in support of these organic standards.”


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