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Perdue further extends organic livestock standards rule delay

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is delaying the effective date of its organic livestock production standards rule — which was published on Jan. 19, 2017 — for an additional six months until Nov. 14, 2017, to allow time for further consideration by USDA. The effective date for this rule was initially March 20, 2017, and was subsequently delayed to May 19, 2017.

The final rule amends the organic livestock and poultry production requirements by adding new provisions for livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions and expands and clarifies existing requirements covering livestock care and production practices and mammalian living conditions.

AMS said Tuesday it will publish a proposed rule that solicits public comments on the direction USDA should take with respect to the rule. The public will have a 30-day comment period (ending June 9) to specify whether USDA should: (1) let the rule become effective, (2) suspend the rule indefinitely, (3) delay the effective date of the rule further or (4) withdraw the rule.

The rule was sought and supported by the Organic Trade Assn. (OTA). At the beginning of May, OTA’s members, representing $1.95 billion in annual organic sales, wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging him to allow the rule go into effect in its entirety on May 19 without further delay. “The decision to become certified organic is voluntary. If consumers lose confidence in the organic seal, it will have catastrophic impacts throughout the industry,” the letter said. “We believe that the rule strikes the right balance between meeting consumer expectations and the reality of commercial-scale food production.”

However, many livestock commodity groups have come out opposed to the extent of changes sought in the new rule. The United Egg Producers, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. had called for the new Administration to withdraw the rule.

NPPC spokesman Dave Warner said, “NPPC is pleased that the Trump Administration has further delayed the Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices Rule. We will submit comments urging USDA to scrap this ill-advised, costly and largely unworkable regulation, which is not science based and would present real challenges to protecting animal and public health.”

Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) welcomed the delay of what he called a “disastrous rule” and said he hopes USDA will carefully consider the rule’s unintended consequences. “As I’ve heard time and time again from organic livestock and poultry producers – the folks who are most affected by its implementation – the rule is bad news for farmers, ranchers and consumers,” he said.

Roberts added, “Organic consumers will see increased prices at the grocery store; family farmers will be put out of business, and animal health will be put at risk, which will decrease food safety.”

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