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Court to hear challenge of USDA’s organic livestock rule withdrawal

Organic Trade Assn. believes USDA was wrong in delaying and eventually withdrawing rule that would have established organic livestock production standards.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has decided to hear a case brought by the Organic Trade Assn. (OTA) against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the agency’s failure to put into effect new organic livestock standards.

In March, USDA withdrew the final Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices (OLPP) regulation, which was supposed to go into effect in May. The agency contends that the Organic Foods Production Act does not give the National Organic Program the authority to regulate animal welfare. OTA is arguing that this claim is a radically different view from any administration since the adoption of the National Organic Program and one that cannot be legally supported.

"We are delighted the court has agreed to hold a hearing despite the USDA's objections. Our case is moving forward,” OTA chief executive officer and executive director Laura Batcha said. “We are also encouraged that the court will hear our challenge to the entire, year-long pattern of unlawful conduct by USDA.”

OTA filed its original lawsuit against USDA in September 2017 over the agency’s continued delay of the final organic welfare standard. The association subsequently submitted an amended complaint in April 2018 to reflect USDA’s withdrawal of the rule. Batcha said OTA believes, "beginning with the first delay that was undertaken without an opportunity for public notice and comment -- shortly after the current Administration took office -- until the final withdrawal of the Organic Livestock & Poultry Production rule in March 2018, that USDA has engaged in a pattern of misconduct that can only be corrected by a federal court."

OTA is also arguing that 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 rule-making processes. The suit argues that USDA’s repeated delays were issued without the required public process and that USDA arbitrarily ignored the overwhelming public record established in support of these organic standards.

“We are confident our case is strong, and we look forward to winning this legal battle to uphold organic standards,” Batcha said. “There should be no doubt that the Organic Trade Assn. and its member businesses have a material stake in the outcomes of USDA actions to kill a final organic standard. Consumers trust that the organic seal represents meaningful differences in the production of crops and the raising of animals, and any shaking of that trust harms organic producers and businesses. The Organic Trade Assn. will continue to fight for the public process that is a critical part of the USDA organic seal."

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