Oregon Tilth Submits Opposition to USDA Proposed Withdrawal of Animal Welfare Rule
For several years, Oregon Tilth, farmers, processors, consumers, and other advocates have worked to develop policy change for animal welfare practices, called the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP). Despite being finalized and approved, the USDA delayed implementation several times throughout 2017 and announced it will withdraw OLPP.
Oregon Tilth submitted comments in opposition to the USDA’s proposed withdrawal of the rule:
We believe that withdrawal of OLPP is an ill-founded rejection of a thoughtful, time-intensive engagement of public-private stakeholders in policy making for public benefit. After a 14-year Congress-mandated process involving collaboration between retailers, farmers, animal advocates, consumers, and numerous government agencies—USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency—the decision to kill the “animal welfare” rule is in direct opposition to an overwhelming support for the policy change. By the USDA’s own count, “out of the more than 47,000 comments the [USDA] received in the [November 2017] public comment period for the regulation, 99 percent were in favor of the rule becoming effective without further delay.”
The USDA National Organic Program is the only government-regulated, voluntary marketplace food label initiative that provides enforceable statutes for food production in the United States. For certified organic producers, the label is a hard-earned conversation in one word—organic—that offers a connection with and verifiable claim to the millions of consumers that make up the sector’s $48 billion food economy.
When OLPP was put up for public comment in April 2016, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) maintained the rule was vital for “to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent and uniform standard.” Now, the USDA AMS claims that letting the rule become effective would exceed the agency’s statutory authority. As reported, the USDA AMS acknowledged longstanding issues of consistency within production practices under the current regulations, leaving it to consumers to determine how to navigate disparity and “seek animal welfare labels in addition to the USDA Organic seal.” The abrupt switch from justification for OLPP to now disallowing the rule to become effective, coupled with a microscopic 0.059 percent of 47,000 public comments (28 on record) in opposition to the rule, undermines public trust in the USDA, National Organic Program, and our national food systems.
Additionally, as part of the Accredited Certifiers Association, Inc., we echo the shared belief that more than a decade of USDA investment in drafting OLPP, public education efforts around the rule, and hundreds of hours of public and stakeholder engagement is proof counter to the new assertion that the current regulations are unambiguous. As Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, stated: “This is yet another example of the USDA manipulating its rule-making process to benefit Big Agriculture interests and, in the process, abandoning its duty to support responsible organic farmers and consumers who have fought alongside animal advocates for nearly two decades to make this rule a reality.” Furthermore, we concur with organic farmer and Representative Chellie Pingree that the proposed dissolution of OLPP “should not be allowed to stand.”
OLPP is one of the USDA’s best examples of how public policy should and could align consumer expectations in the marketplace with organic producers undertaking significant efforts to earn their confidence. Oregon Tilth and the USDA National Organic Program serve as trusted resources in a crowded landscape of food claims. We believe that everyone deserves the right to know the impact of their purchase and how it supports what is most important to them. We understand how complicated and challenging “going organic” is for a new farmer or handler. It should be; the organic label is a crucial marketplace declaration that consumers rely on.
OLPP represents rigorous, consistent, enforceable and sensible changes to maintain the integrity of organic products in a growing marketplace. Oregon Tilth is in opposition to the proposed withdrawal of the final rule and requests immediate implementation of OLPP to continue the development of a values-directed, market-driven pathway for farmers and processors to connect with consumers.
We continue to support the rule and believe the only option is to let OLPP become effective. The USDA National Organic Program’s OLPP reflects a thorough and thoughtful process to meet consumer expectations while meeting a consistent standard for all livestock producers.
Please take a moment to give additional comment during the open period through January 17, 2018 at Regulations.gov.