In a full-page paid advertisement in the Jan. 16 Washington Post, organic stakeholders – including farmers, consumers, retailers, certifiers and organizations – implored Sec. Sonny Perdue to restore the organic animal welfare standard, which was approved in the 11th hour of the Obama Administration and then delayed multiple times under the Trump administration the department announced in late December that it would withdraw the final rule.
USDA said it decided to nix the rule because the department claims it exceeds the statutory authority of the National Organic Program.
In the open-letter, stakeholders argue otherwise, noting that the rule was the product of “a multi-year, transparent and highly participatory process that resulted in an animal welfare standard overwhelmingly supported by organic farmers, organic companies, humane animal care advocates and consumers.”
Going a step farther, the CEO of Organic Valley George Siemon says in a statement that the USDA’s decision to withdraw the rule is “purely political and against organic.”
He explains: “We have seen industrial agriculture fight against animal welfare again and again, whether it is cage-free or ending gestation crates. Now, when organic wants consistent animal welfare standards supported by a strong public process, industrial agriculture’s fears are trumping.”
The new standards wouldn’t even apply to conventional farming, according to the open letter, which reminds readers that “farmers choose to be organic and adhere to strict standard.”
It adds that the organic program, and the animal welfare rule, “had strong bipartisan approval from its inception,” and supports a $50 billion industry.
Along with the letter, industry is calling for “all eaters” to “use your voice to protect organic” by filling out a form letter online that tells USDA that signers oppose the proposed withdrawal of the animal welfare standards in organic.
The form criticizes the Administration for publishing the notice to roll back the standard during the busy holiday season and giving the public only “a scant 30 days to speak our minds.” With the clock ticking, this gives those interested in voicing their opinion through Jan. 17 to comment.
With so little time remaining, stakeholders argue on the form, “NOW is the time to fight back. It only takes ONE MINUTE to weigh in for organic farmers, animals and consumers everywhere.”
Given that 47,000 commenters previously voiced their support for the higher animal welfare standards, it is unclear how much weight this administration will give the comments on its proposal to withdraw the rule.
In light of that risk, the Organic Trade Association also is fighting the decision in court.