The proposed rule would have increased federal regulation of livestock and poultry for certified organic producers and handlers, and had largely been opposed by the domestic meat industry. The withdrawal becomes effective on 13 May 2018.
When announcing the withdrawal, the USDA said: “Significant policy and legal issues were identified after the rule published in January 2017.
“After careful review and two rounds of public comment, USDA has determined that the rule exceeds the Department’s statutory authority, and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program, including real costs for producers and consumers.”
USDA marketing and regulatory program undersecretary Greg Ibach said: “The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective. 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.”
According to USDA reports for 2017, the number of certified organic operations increased domestically by 7% and globally by 11%. Industry estimates showed that organic food sales in the US reached almost $47 billion in 2016, reflecting an increase of almost $3.7 billion since 2015.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Kevin Kester welcomed the decision.
“Common sense scored an all-too-rare victory in Washington, DC,” he said. “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 recognising our commitment to raise all cattle humanely, regardless of the marketing program they are in. Secretary Sonny Perdue deserves a lot of credit for yet another common-sense decision that will benefit America’s cattle producers.”
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) also praised the rule’s withdrawal. “We’d like to thank Sec. Perdue and the Trump administration for listening to our concerns with the rule and recognising the serious challenges it would have presented our producers,” said NPPC president Ken Maschhoff.
The NPPC said it had raised a number of problems with the regulation, including animal and public health concerns and the fact that animal production practices had nothing to do with the basic concept of “organic”. The trade body also cited the complexity the standards would have added to the organic certification process, creating significant barriers to existing and new organic producers.
Not everyone welcomed the decision, however. National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson said the USDA’s move would exacerbate consumer confusion about the meaning of the organic label, and it would ultimately negatively impact family organic producers who adhere to strict, voluntary organic standards.
“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.”