The OTA’s Animal Welfare Lawsuit against the USDA
There is a battle brewing between the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA). In September, the OTA, who works hand in hand with the National Organic Program, filed a lawsuit after another delay in the OLPP, commonly known as the Organic Animal Welfare Rule.
The Meat of This Lawsuit
The OLPP is a 51 page document published by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service that was scheduled to go into effect on March 20, 2017. The new rules were finalized in late January 2017. However, in February the USDA delayed the effective date until May 19, 2017, followed by another delay in the implementation on May 9, 2017—this time until November 14, 2017. During May, the publication of a second OLPP was created along with a public comment period.
During the public comment period over 45,000 comments were received with an outcry of support for the bill. With baited breathe all supporters waited the final decision by U.S Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Purdue. On November 9th, the USDA announced a further delay putting the new implementation date for May 14, 2018.
In effort to bring the OLPP rules into effect, the OTA filed the lawsuit to “uphold the integrity of the organic seal and to honor the consumer trust in the seal.” “The OTA asks the judge to vacate the agency’s multiple delay orders and eliminate options proposed by USDA to further delay, rewrite, and permanently delay the rule—thereby making the final livestock rule effective immediately, as written.”
What’s So Important in This Rule?
The rule is set to be the most extended animal welfare regulations approved by the federal government. The rule includes new detailed requirements for pain management, stress, physical alterations, and practices to ensure the overall health of the animals.
One of the most debated topics of this rule is the discussion of what’s considered “outdoor access”. The OLPP has a long list of amendments for poultry and livestock welfare with a new definition for outdoor access. The current existing law “requires year round access for all animals to outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise area, fresh air and sunlight”. It however does not go into the desired details of what this means, and creates room for self interpretation of the rule. Many organic poultry producers, for example, have little to no access to outdoors, but instead use multi-story aviaries. This rule clarifies that outdoor space must include soil and vegetation.
Implications and Opposition
The majority of certified organic producers already comply with the new proposed rule, so what’s the problem? Those who oppose the new rule fall heavily into the dairy and poultry market sectors. OTA has estimated that only 5 percent of producers in the egg area are out compliance with the outdoor access rule. However, these 5 percent make up a heavy amount of the volume of the organic eggs. Large scale egg and poultry operations have filed oppositions into the rule stating alternatives such as porches to the need for outdoor access. They state that outdoor access will greatly increase consumer costs and price out many people of the organic market, causing more harm than good.
The opposition however is not the only side stating market effects. The Animal Welfare Institute and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals released a report stating the harm that will be done to the organic market by not providing the increasing desire for transparency in the market place.
At this time, it’s hard to concretely state what will be all of the effects on the market and the consumer. Will the costs go up? Will the increased cost be offset by the knowledge of transparency and better animal welfare practices? Will consumers understand what this all means? This all remains to be seen. I think the only thing guaranteed is that this resolution will not come as quickly as many would hope.
Currently, no court dates have been scheduled and no settlement outside has been reached.
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