By Thomas Phippen
President Donald Trump’s administration Monday canceled an organic livestock rule finalized in the last hours of former President Barack Obama’s administration, in an effort to simplify organic food classifications and reduce burdens on farmers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rescinded the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule because it would have exceeded the department’s authority and been a costly burden on organic producers, the government said.
“The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach said in a statement. “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.”
The rule would have required meat and poultry producers, including egg farmers, who sell under certified organic food labels to comply with certain methods for raising livestock. The rule covered animal care from production practices to transport, slaughter and living conditions for organic livestock and poultry.
The final rule, published Jan. 19, 2017, prohibited farmers from docking pig tails, something the industry views as necessary for hygiene and animal safety, if the product was to be marketed as organic. Producers were required to provide access to outdoor spaces, particularly for poultry.
The USDA found “significant” legal and policy issues with the rule; after accepting several round of public comment, the department announced in December 2017 it intended to withdraw the rule outright rather than update it.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing agency, which runs the National Organic Program responsible for the “certified organic” labels, does not have the legislative authority to regulate all aspects of animal care within the organic program, the department’s marketing branch said in withdrawing the rule.
Current law allows for regulation in narrow areas of animal care, including the types of food animals ingest, the antibiotics and vaccines used (absent illness), and anti-parasite treatments, the USDA said, interpreting law more narrowly than Obama’s administration.
Other animal care practices, like requiring poultry to have access to outside spaces and the ability to spread their wings as Obama’s rule dictated, did not fall under the government’s authority.
Organic labels are more about advertising. Perdue slowed the government’s push to change the food industry through organic incentive programs and regulations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue commented in the past.