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USDA withdraws animal welfare rule

USDA withdraws animal welfare rule
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The Trump administration has decided to withdraw an Obama-era rule that would have set new standards for the way animals should be treated if their meat is going to be sold as “certified organic.”

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Monday that it is officially withdrawing the final rule it delayed for the third time in November. The agency said the rule, which was set to take effect in May, exceeded the department’s statutory authority and could have had a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.

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“The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” Greg Ibach, under secretary of Agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a statement.

“The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.”

Finalized under the Obama administration in April 2016, the rule largely dictated how producers and handlers participating in the National Organic Program are required to treat livestock and poultry to ensure their wellbeing.

The rule stipulated, 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.

In withdrawing the final rule, the USDA said its Agricultural Marketing Service only has the congressional authority to regulate aspects of animal care that relate to the ingestion or administration of nonorganic substances.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA), which first filed suit against the USDA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in September over the department’s failure to put the organic livestock and poultry practices rule into effect, said Monday it plans to amend its complaint.

“The USDA’s unconscionable action does not deter us,” Laura Batcha, the group’s CEO and executive director, said in a statement.

“We will continue our fight in the court. USDA has requested that this case be dismissed; now they have announced they are withdrawing the rule. But this issue will not go away. This latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation.”

Updated: 3:18 p.m.