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Delay in organic animal welfare standards recalls rule’s long journey

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Tara Moore
Source: Getty/Tara Moore

Related tags Animal welfare

The hard-fought and long-awaited Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards final rule has been delayed, yet again, and while the change is “minor” and due to a technicality, it recalls the many other delays and near-deaths the rule has endured since work began on it some 20 years ago.

In a Federal Register notice published today​, The US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service pushes back by 10 days the effective date of the OLPS final rule​, which standardizes livestock health care practices, including physical alteration procedures that are prohibited and restricted for organic livestock; living conditions ‘to better reflect the needs and behaviors of different species, as well as related consumer expectations;’ and transport of animals, including new requirements on the transport of organic livestock or sale or slaughter.

The new effective date will be Jan. 12, rather than Jan. 2, to comply with requirements of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996. The act mandates major rules cannot be effective until 60 days after all required information is received by Congress, which in this case was Nov. 13.

The delay does not change any of the compliance dates within the OLPS final rule, except to make a technical correction to the compliance date for indoor and outdoor stocking density requirements and soil and vegetation requirements for broiler operations to Jan. 2, 2029, from Jan. 5, 2029, so that they align with other compliance dates in the rule.

The change means that even though the rule preamble says compliance dates are “one year following the effective date of the final rule” or “five years from the effective date,” all compliance dates are actually one or five years from the original effective date of Jan. 2, according to the notice.

10-day postponement compounds earlier delays

The 10-day holdup may not sound like much given the long horizons for the compliance dates in the rule, but for industry stakeholders who have lobbied and negotiated for decades for the rule the delay may feel mean joke or as if their hard work could still be for not.

An earlier version of the animal welfare standards for organic producers that was finalized and passed under the Obama Administration was frozen and later withdrawn​ by the Trump Administration.

The abrupt withdrawal followed the submission of nearly 120,000 comments – most of which supported the rule – and prompted the Organic Trade Association to sue the government ​over its failure to uphold organic standards.

The current version of the organic animal welfare standards faced additional pushback​ as recently as this fall when a state senator and representative introduced amendments to the Agriculture Appropriations bill that would prohibit funding from the Farm Bill to implement or enforce the OLPS final rule.

Overwhelming support for OLPS

These efforts to limit implementation of the OLPS rule once again followed a comment period in which 39,090 comments were posted – 89% of which OTA says were in favor of the regulation being finalized and implemented.

Many of the letters AMS received during the comment period called out the lack of clear animal welfare standards under the organic label as detrimental to consumers’ trust in the certification.

For example, AMS said it received more than 6,000 copies of one letter saying consumers’ confidence in the organic label was undermined by the lack of clear standards while other letters said consumers expected the USDA Organic seal to include robust standards for animal welfare.

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