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Trump waters down US organic standards

Legal action seems inevitable following the controversial decision by the Trump administration not to impose additional regulatory requirements for organic livestock and poultry producers.

President Trump’s administration took the decision earlier this month to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule, published in January 2017 under the former Obama regime.

The OLPP addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport and slaughter. Most importantly for the poultry sector, it stops the use of “porches” from being allowed in organic poultry production. This is seen as a critical clarification of the existing organic standards, and levels the playing field for organic poultry producers.

Porches are typically walled-in areas with a roof, hard floors and screening on one side and do not allow the birds outside.

Photo: Dreamstime
Photo: Dreamstime

The Obama rules would have required farmers to provide at least 1 sq foot of outdoor space for each 2.25 lbs of poultry in their flock – so about one acre for a flock of 20,000 birds.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said significant policy and legal issues were identified following the publication of the rule and that after careful review and two rounds of consultation, it had decided the rule had exceeded the Department’s statutory authority.

It warned that changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program, including additional costs for both producers and consumers.

Organic growth

The organic sector in the US has seen a growth in numbers in the past couple of years. According to USDA reports for 2017, the number of certified organic operations increased domestically by 7% with organic sales in the US almost reaching $47bn in 2016 – a rise of nearly $3.7bn since 2015.

Greg Ibach, USDA marketing and regulatory programme Undersecretary said: “The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.”

But the Organic Trade Association (OTA) condemned the move saying the Department had acted without regard for public comment and respect for legal authorities. It said it was intensifying its efforts in the courts and would be immediately be amending its official complaint against USDA to challenge the Department’s latest attempt to ill the rule.

Laura Batcha, OTA chief executive officer, said: “The 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.

“Since the filing of our lawsuit last September, a host or organic stakeholders representing thousands of organic families, organic certifiers and organic policymakers – along with leading animal welfare and retail groups speaking out for millions of consumers – have joined our challenge,” she added.

The withdrawal of the OLPP will become effective on 13 May.

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