Vilsack to re-evaluate organic livestock rule

Organic rule
Organic Trade Association welcomes acknowledgement that organic birds should have requirements for time outside.

Under the direction of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, USDA will reconsider the prior administration’s actions on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule. The regulations for organic livestock and production standards were released in the final days of the Vilsack's previous time at USDA; but one of the first actions under previous Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was to rescind the Obama-era rule and reintroduce its own version.

“We intend to reconsider the prior Administration’s interpretation that the Organic Foods Production Act does not authorize USDA to regulate the practices that were the subject of the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule,” says Vilsack.

Speaking live June 16 at the virtual meeting to more than 250 members of the Organic Trade Association, Vilsack laid out a forward-looking agenda for the organic sector. Vilsack told members of the Organic Trade Association at the annual meeting that he appreciates the importance of the organic animal welfare issue.

“We understand, appreciate the concern of getting this done, getting it done right, getting it done in a way that preserves the brand…I am committed, and I committed our team to an accelerated approval process.”  

He says he’s directed the National Organic Program to begin a rulemaking to address this statutory interpretation and to include a proposal to disallow the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production over time and on other topics that were the subject of the OLPP final rule. 

The Organic Trade Association says it welcomes Vilsack’s acknowledgment that animal welfare belongs in organic, and birds belong outside.

“This issue has been in the Courts since 2017 when the Organic Trade Association took legal action to defend organic standards,” OTA says in a statement. “The USDA has already conceded that its economic analysis underpinning the Trump withdrawal of the OLPP rule is flawed.”

OTA added that USDA’s acknowledgment of these matters now facilitates a full and timely resolution of this litigation. The next court filing deadline was June 18, and OTA says they’ll proceed absent a full settlement.

“We anticipate sending the proposed rule to OMB within six to nine months from the date of the remand,” Vilsack adds. “We look forward to receiving public comments on those topics and, after reviewing the comments, USDA will publish a final rule.”

While speaking to OTA members, Vilsack also promises to reestablish the position of USDA organic policy adviser, beefing up organic enforcement and “expanding the number and diversity of those who will be involved in inspections and certifications.

“We are working hard to protect the [organic] brand and to expand a number of issues and opportunities for the organic industry…all designed to provide a strong message of the significance and importance that I place personally, and that the department places on this industry,” says Vilsack. “We recognize the importance of it, we recognize the value-added opportunities that it presents, and we think it is an important, a very important, part of the industry that will help us to a much better, climate-friendly agriculture.”

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