The Organic Trade Association wants its day in court. The association on Wednesday requested that oral arguments be heard on its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the Department's failure to put into effect new organic livestock standards. The request comes as the case is gaining significant momentum and as more organic businesses and stakeholders take action and speak out in support of the lawsuit.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, a host of organic stakeholders representing thousands of organic farming families, organic certifiers and organic policymakers—along with leading animal welfare and retail groups speaking out for millions of consumers—have joined the Organic Trade Association's challenge.
"We are ready to go. We want to advance this issue, and we want the court to hear our case," said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association. "We've gone through all the back and forth with the USDA in our court filings, and now it's time to present the organic sector's case to the judge in oral arguments. The USDA has requested that this case be dismissed, but this issue won't go away. In fact, it is only picking up steam, with key organic stakeholders joining us in our efforts."
The Organic Trade Association last September filed a lawsuit against the USDA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over the Department's failure to enact the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) regulation. The regulation was developed and fully vetted for more than a decade by the organic sector, the National Organic Standards Board and USDA's National Organic Program.
Since the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, the government has delayed its implementation five times, either through the formal rulemaking process or through its attempt to dismiss the lawsuit. In doing so, it has ignored overwhelming support from the organic sector and the public at large for the new rules.
Questions and answers about this lawsuit
What does the organic livestock rule do?
It addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport and slaughter. The rule refines and clarifies a series of organic animal welfare recommendations incorporated into the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established the federal organic regulations. Most importantly, it stops the use of "porches" from being allowed in organic poultry production and requires producers to give their poultry access to the outdoors. This is a critical clarification of the existing organic standards, and levels the playing field for organic poultry producers.
Why did the Organic Trade Association file this lawsuit, and why is it important?
The Organic Trade Association filed the lawsuit on behalf of the entire organic sector. The viability of the organic market rests on consumer trust in the USDA Organic seal, and trust that the organic seal represents a meaningful differentiation from other agricultural practices. Consumers rely on organic livestock and poultry being raised according to the highest standards, and they trust that the organic seal is an assurance of those high standards. The organic sector depends on USDA to set organic standards fairly and according to the law. When USDA fails to do this, it is time for the organic community to insist that it live up to its responsibility.
What are the specific arguments of the lawsuit?
The Organic Trade Association argues in the lawsuit that the USDA violated the Organic Foods Production Act by failing to consult with the National Organic Standards Board on this rollback of the final organic animal welfare standard, and unlawfully delayed the effective date of the final livestock standards developed by industry and in accordance with the established rulemaking processes. The lawsuit also argues that the USDA's repeated delays were issued without the required public process, and that the USDA arbitrarily ignored the overwhelming public record established in support of these organic standards.
The government is contending that the association does not have legal standing to file this case. What is the Organic Trade Association's response to this charge?
This is a playbook attempt to block the case from being evaluated on its merits. There should be no doubt that the Organic Trade Association and its member businesses have a material stake in the outcomes of the USDA’s actions to kill a final organic standard.
Who are the organic stakeholders and other interested parties supporting the Organic Trade Association in the lawsuit and what are they saying?
Supporters of the Organic Trade Association are declarants who were harmed by the USDA action:
- George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative—Organic Valley is owned by more than 2,000 organic farm families. "If consumers understand that some organic livestock products meet higher welfare standards than others, the USDA organic seal is concretely damaged by that inconsistency. … CROPP cannot abandon the federal organic program for other certification programs as its brand, Organic Valley, and its membership require organic certification. CROPP is harmed when the USDA's organic seal is devalued in the market place."
- Gina Asoudegan, vice president of mission and innovation strategy for Applegate—Applegate is the nation's leading natural and organic prepared meat products company in the United States. "Our company is harmed by competition from organic livestock products that are not meeting the highest organic welfare standards. The absence of a consistent national standard for organic livestock products and its associated additional costs harm consumers in the form of higher prices."
- Jesse Laflamme, co-founder of Pete & Gerry's Eggs—Pete & Gerry's partners with more than 100 independent, family-owned and operated farms across 14 states. "Failure to implement the final rule and its welfare provisions, will lead to irremediable damage to consumer trust in the USDA Organic seal because it will fall behind the consumer's expectations for egg production, and thus our farmers will suffer severe financial setbacks."
- Robynn Schrader, CEO of National Co+op Grocers—The National Co+op Grocers (NCG) and its 200 retailer food co-ops are owned by more than 1.3 million consumers. "The continued delay of the OLPP is causing consumer confusion in NCG co-op stores about the meaning of organic livestock standards ... and degrading confidence in the USDA Certified Organic label."
- Kyla Smith, chair of directors for the Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA)—ACA is a non-profit educational organization whose members include 53 accredited certification agencies working to ensure the integrity of organic certification in the United States. "Delay or withdrawal of the OLPP harms and will continue to harm ACA members by depriving members of the clarifications contained in the final rule and the resultant inconsistent certification outcomes. Accredited certifying agents (ACA members) are in the business of ensuring the efficacy of the USDA Organic seal, and are harmed when consumer perception and trust of the USDA seal are downgraded or diminished."
- Tom Chapman, chairman of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and director of ingredient sourcing at Clif Bar & Company—NOSB is the advisory board that makes recommendations to the USDA on organic food and products. Clif Bar produces certified organic products. "The failure to implement the final OLPP will harm consumer trust in the USDA Organic seal and the role of the NOSB because it appears the rulemaking process is underpinned not by deliberate and robust consensus building under the public-private partnership created by Congress, but by unhelpful exclusionary fiat."
What have the nation's leading animal welfare organizations said about the lawsuit? Have they taken any action?
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) filed as a "friend of the court" on March 2 in support of the Organic Trade Association's lawsuit. ASPCA is North America's oldest humane organization with roughly 2.5 million supporters nationwide.
"The final Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule would close the loopholes that are hurting animals, consumers and responsible farmers by requiring that all organic farms offer animals real outdoor access, among other improvements. We have joined the legal fight, and we will continue to work with consumers so they know what they are—and are not—getting with their purchases."
- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a separate lawsuit on Jan. 12 against USDA for withdrawing the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulation. HSUS is the largest animal protection group in the country, with some 10 million members.
"Famers and consumers opt into this program, and USDA has a simple role: develop fair, science-based standards. Instead, the agency has bowed to Big Ag and scuttled a program that every key stakeholder in the organic space wanted."
- The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has strongly criticized USDA for delaying the animal welfare regulation and actively encouraged its members to submit comments in support of the rule. AWI's mission is to reduce pain and fear inflicted on animals by humans.
"The USDA's decision reverses course without a reasonable justification and without following proper legal procedure. It also defies the will of consumers and nearly all organic farmers."
For the complete background on this issue, see https://ota.com/livestockpractices.
Source: Organic Trade Association