In a joint status report filed March 22 by OTA and USDA in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the two sides requested an extension of a stay previously approved last December “to permit the incoming administration some time to evaluate the case” with the “possibility that the incoming President [Biden] will bring policy and legal perspectives that differ from the outgoing President’s [Trump] views.”
The document notes that USDA and OTA, through counsel, have conferred “on several occasions in the last 30 days” about “a potential amical resolution” and that an additional 30-day stay “is appropriate to continue their discussions regarding a potential agreement to resolve the litigation.”
While the court document strikes an optimistic tone, OTA and other organic stakeholders and legislative supporters are simultaneously pressuring President Biden and director of the US Domestic Policy Council Susan Rice to reinstate the OLPP final rule – a move that they argue not only would improve animal welfare standards under the organic certification but also would “restore trust and confidence in the USDA Organic seal and allow organic to continue to thrive.”
Legislators lobby Biden to restore rule, consumer confidence in organic
In a letter sent to Biden March 19, legislators argue the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the OLLP “eviscerated” the organic policymaking authority of the Secretary of Agriculture, and was “erroneously” based on the belief that the Organic Foods Production Act does not authorize existing federal organic livestock and stand-alone animal welfare standards.
“This conclusion, if left uncorrected, destabilizes the entire organic livestock regulatory framework, and upsets more than 20 years of well-settled organic requirements,” notes the letter signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy and Jon Tester and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Peter DeFazio.
The letter also calls out the Trump administration’s failure to consult with the National Organic Standards Board about withdrawing the final rule as required by the Organic Foods Production Act.
“We urge the administration to take this opportunity to collaborate with the organic industry by reinstating the final rule and restoring organic policymaking authority to its proper role,” the legislators conclude.
Stakeholders say rule would level the playing field among organic producers
Many of these points are echoed in a letter sent March 23 to Rice by a coalition of organic industry stakeholders, including OTA.
But the letter to Rice also makes business and climate change cases for reinstating the final rule, which would have set outdoor access standards for organic livestock and poultry so that they could “engage in natural behaviors.”
For example, the letter notes, “nearly 50% of the organic poultry market is now dominated by a handful of producers that do not allow meaningful outdoor access for hens,” and withdrawing the rule “made it more difficult for organic livestock farmers that operate at higher welfare standards to compete on a level playing field, and has restricted opportunities for small and medium sized producers to enter the organic market.”
The letter also argues restoring the final rule would allow industry to meet consumer demand and “create a more equitable food system that serves to lift up both rural and urban communities that depend on it.”