Organic Trade Association sues the USDA for refusing to enforce its own organic livestock standards

On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its final rule on organic livestock and poultry production practices, known as the Organic Animal Welfare Rule. This legislation represented the culmination of 14 years of hard work by Congress and organic stakeholders, and contained rules that had to be implemented in a structured way over the next five years. When a White House Memorandum was published just days later requesting a freeze on all recently published or pending rules, the implementation date was extended to 19 May 2017. The USDA then pushed that date back even further, and now the Organic Trade Association (OTA) is suing the regulator for failing to implement its own standards.

The rule was established to provide for the humane treatment and slaughter of certified organic poultry and meat, and includes regulations regarding:

  • Indoor and outdoor space for poultry;
  • How to ensure the health and well-being of livestock during their lifetimes, and how to safely and humanely transport and slaughter them;
  • Specific timelines for when various aspects of the rule have to be implemented; and
  • Clarification of existing organic standards.

While the implementation of organic standards is purely voluntary and only accepted by farmers who wish to carry the USDA certified organic label, they are important because the organic market is booming and consumers have specific expectations of foods labeled in this way.

A press release from the OTA explains:

American consumers are eating more organic food than ever before, show the findings of the Organic Trade Association’s 2017 Organic Industry Survey. Organic food sales in the U.S. totaled $43.1  billion in 2016, marking the first time organic food sales in this country have broken through the $40 billion mark. Organic food now accounts for more than five percent of total food sales in this country, another significant first for organic.

Organic meat and poultry sales posted new records in 2016, increasing by more than 17 percent to $991 million, for the category’s biggest-ever yearly gain. Sales are expected to surpass the $1 billion mark for the first time in 2017. Growing awareness of organic’s more encompassing benefits over natural, grass-fed or hormone-free meats and poultry is spurring consumer interest in organic meat and poultry aisles.

These consumers expect the USDA label to be a guarantee that the highest standards are being maintained, and that animal welfare practices are being carefully upheld.

The OTA, farmers and businesses are pushing for the implementation of the rule because they believe it is “the right thing to do and it is what our customers expect.” (Related: Read about other important issues affecting animals and the environment at

The USDA, however, has dragged its heels in the implementation of the rule, even though those most directly involved – the organic farmers – have welcomed it with open arms.  (Related: USDA running massive glyphosate cover-up, refuses to test foods for traces of cancer-causing herbicide chemical used on GM crops.)

The OTA’s lawsuit alleges the following:

  • The USDA’s repeated delays in this matter are a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act;
  • The USDA has proposed action which could indefinitely delay or kill the rule, which is also a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act;
  • The USDA is in violation of the Organic Foods Production Act; and
  • The Executive order freezing regulations should not be applied to the rule because these standards are voluntary and industry-driven, rather than an example of government overreach.

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