Moving to reverse one of the Trump administration's many corporate-friendly deregulatory actions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced plans to revive a rule aimed at establishing specific animal welfare standards that food producers must meet to qualify for the USDA's organic seal.
"A major victory for all those who care about a meaningful organic label."
—Amy van Saun, Center for Food Safety
Finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule would have required organic food producers to ensure adequate indoor and outdoor space for farm animals, spelling an end to the widespread industry practice of cramming thousands of hens and chickens into windowless barns. The rule also would have clarified previously murky standards for the humane treatment of poultry and livestock.
The rule was applauded by small farmers and activists as a key step toward preventing big corporations from attaining the "organic" label for their products despite raising animals in over-crowded and cruel conditions. But soon after taking power, the Trump administration stopped the rule from taking effect and withdrew it entirely in 2018—a boon for factory farms.
On Thursday, the Biden USDA said in a statement that it intends to "reconsider the prior administration's interpretation that the Organic Foods Production Act does not authorize USDA to regulate the practices that were the subject of the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule."
"I have directed the National Organic Program to begin a rulemaking to address this statutory interpretation and to include a proposal to disallow the use of porches as outdoor space in organic production over time and on other topics that were the subject of the OLPP final rule," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "We anticipate sending the proposed rule to OMB within six to nine months from the date of the remand."
Amy van Saun, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety (CFS)—a group that sued the Trump administration over its withdrawal of the OLPP rule—said that the USDA's announcement is "a major victory for all those who care about a meaningful organic label."
"After four years of hard-fought litigation, the Biden administration is recognizing that the Trump withdrawal decision was inconsistent with organic standards and principles," van Saun continued. "Finally, USDA will close the loophole allowing factory farms to produce 'organic' eggs and chicken, and level the playing field for real organic farmers already providing high welfare to their animals."
The National Organic Coalition's Abby Youngblood similarly applauded the USDA's move as "a huge victory in securing the trust of consumers and farmers alike who expect meaningful and consistent standards for animal welfare under the organic label."
"Consumer trust in the USDA Certified Organic label is vital and assures the success of the organic seal in the marketplace," Youngblood added.