It is now official, the USDA has withdrawn the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule, as of May 13, 2018. This action will close one chapter and begin the next in a long-running conflict withing the organic community, and between it and the USDA.
The USDA is justifying its actions primarily by pointing to the impact of the OLPP on large-scale organic chicken operations that look and smell, and are managed in essentially the same way conventional ones are, except for the use of organic feed and no use of prohibited pharmaceuticals.
According to OLPP critics, adherence to the stricter requirements for outdoor access and minimal space per bird would raise the cost of organic eggs and chicken, and “change the rules” for producers who had invested in chicken houses that at least some certifiers, and the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), deem in compliance with Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) requirements.
Nearly all organic farmers (other than those impacted), organic food businesses, and consumer groups active in advancing the integrity and supply of organic food strongly support the rule, which was the end-result of a tortuously long and messy, but open and democratic process.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has already sued the USDA over the delay in the implementation of the rule, and now will amend their lawsuit to argue for reversing the Department’s decision to drop it. The litigation will likely take a few years to move through the courts, and will draw added media and consumer attention to the dark-side of large-scale, organic livestock operations.
There were some 72,000 comments submitted in response to the USDA’s latest request for public input regarding what to do with OLPP.
Almost 88% of the comments supported rule implementation. About 7,800 expressed no opinion regarding final USDA action. Out of the remaining ~2,200 comments, only about 50 non-form letters urged the USDA to abandon the rule.
There were ~7,000 non-form letters submitted to the USDA in support of the rule. This one was
posted on Hygeia a few months ago.
It provides additional details why this action by the USDA is contrary to law, goes against what the vast majority of the organic community supports, undermines the deliberative, open process that is supposed to guide implementation of the OFPA, and will reinforce the arguments of those who assert organic livestock products in the marketplace do not differ materially from conventional, with one exception — they cost more.
This is just the latest of many actions by the USDA that show the Department’s true colors when it comes to defending and promoting the integrity of organic food and farming. It joins an already long list of ways the USDA undermines consumer confidence in organic food and farming.
Tom Polansek, “USDA withdraws proposal to stiffen rules for organic egg farms,” Reuters, March 12, 2018.