Organic groups and farmers applaud new USDA organic livestock standard
The U.S. Department of Agriculture published its new standard for organic livestock production. Industry groups say that this will help producers compete and promote trust in organic products for consumers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has finalized its standard for organic livestock production. The new rule sets requirements for outdoor and indoor conditions as well as healthcare practices and transportation of animals.
“These changes are to support and promote the wellbeing of natural behaviors of organic livestock and poultry,” said Jenny Lester Moffitt, the USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “It's really about establishing clear, strong and consistent standards for organic livestock production and handling.”
Various roadblocks delayed the new rule. The original standards were set in 2002, but in the years since, groups advocating for organic food companies, farmers and consumers have worked towards tightening language, particularly around the conditions that the animals are kept in.
“I think this is what is really unique about organic standards, is that the industry came to USDA back in 1990 and they said, ‘Hey, we wanna make sure that we have consistent application of what consumers are expecting when they buy something that is labeled as organic,'” said Moffitt.
‘Levels the playing field’
Both the USDA and those in the organic industry say that the rule will not only help build consumer trust in organic products, but also benefit producers.
“It levels the playing field, because everyone will be held to the same standards,” said Tom Chapman, the CEO of the Organic Trade Association.
Russ Kramer, a hog farmer in central Missouri, who is in the process of acquiring the organic certification, said that the rule will help protect small farmers like him from getting undercut by larger producers, who are cashing in on the organic label without providing the proper conditions for their animals.
“I think that some of the larger entities can come in and paint a story that looks probably warmer and fuzzier than it is,” he said, “and it's unfair to the smaller entities that are doing a really good job and caring for their animals and doing everything by the letter.”
“It makes me optimistic that smaller farmers like myself can compete with some of the larger conglomerates.”
Some lingering opposition
The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council both submitted comments during the public comment period in opposition of the standard, arguing that the changes would be costly for producers and have a negative impact on animal health.
“The proposed standards are not science based and present real challenges to protecting animal and public health,” wrote Anna Forseth, director of animal health at the National Pork Producers Council.
The American Farm Bureau Federation did not respond to a request for comment, and the National Pork Producers Council declined to comment.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and Rep. Keith Self, R-Texas, both filed spending bill amendments prior to the finalization of the rule that could impact its enforcement.
Chapman of the Organic Trade Association said it's not a critical threat to the rule, but if they were to go through, it would set a bad precedent.
“Congress has rolled this authority to the USDA to do,” he said. “If that's the action, they're really stepping into an authority that they've already handed over to the USDA.”
This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.
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