USDA delays Obama-era animal welfare rules for third time

USDA delays Obama-era animal welfare rules for third time
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The Trump administration is delaying for a third time Obama-era rules for the treatment of animals whose meat is sold as “certified organic.” 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it’s pushing back the rule, originally set to take effect on March 20, to May 14, 2018.

Finalized under the Obama administration in April 2016, the rules largely dictate how producers and handlers participating in the National Organic Program must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their wellbeing.

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The rules stipulate for example that poultry must be housed in spaces that are big enough for the birds to move freely, stretch their wings, stand normally and engage in natural behaviors. Livestock, meanwhile, must be provided access to an outdoor space year round and be kept in indoor pens that are sufficiently large, solidly built and comfortable so that the animals are kept clean, dry and free of lesions. 

When President Trump took office, he issued a freeze on all regulatory action. Agencies were told to delay rules that had already been finalized by 60 days, pushing implementation of the organic standards rule back until May 19. The agency then delayed it an addition 180 days to Nov. 14.

In a notice published in the Federal Register this week, the USDA under Trump claims the cost of the final rules might outweigh the benefits and may not follow the Organic Foods Production Act’s text, nature and purpose.

The Organic Trade Association filed a lawsuit in September against the USDA for delaying the rule. The group claims in its complaint that delays are final rules subject to public comment under the Administrative Procedure Act.

In a statement this week the group said it had anticipated a “further walk back” of what was 14 years of work to improve and clarify organic animal agriculture regulations.

“Any steps by USDA to unwind the changes to federal organic regulations are being taken against a backdrop of nearly universal support among the organic community, animal welfare advocates and consumers for the rules that USDA has now rejected,” the association said.  

“We will continue this fight in the court, where a federal judge will now evaluate whether the Administration has wrongly ignored the laws that require consultation with the National Organic Standards Board and those requiring informing the public and providing consumers a chance to comment on organic policies, before they take effect.”