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OTA sues USDA to defend organic

In Brief: Organic Livestock + Poultry Practices Rule

  • The continued success of the organic sector demands that organic standards be robust, consistent and clear in order to stay meaningful.

  • The Organic Trade Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its failure to put into effect new organic livestock and poultry regulations.

  • USDA has since proposed complete withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule, providing only 30 days for public comment.

  • Despite a truncated timeline, spanning three major federal holidays, the Organic Trade Association helped deliver over 70,000 comments to the Federal Register in support of implementing the final rule.

  • OTA’s actions to defend organic have resulted in coast-to-coast media coverage. Checkout stories from The Washington Post to The Chicago Tribune to The San Francisco Chronicle.

AlertOrganic Trade Association blasts USDA withdrawal of organic animal welfare rule. Read the press release.

Organic Trade Association rebuts USDA motion to dismiss animal welfare lawsuit

The Organic Trade Association on February 16, 2018 issued a statement in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s motion to dismiss the Organic Trade Association’s lawsuit challenging USDA’s delay of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule: “USDA’s motion to dismiss the Organic Trade Association’s lawsuit would be unremarkable except for its clear failure to consider the overwhelming public support for the delayed rule.  OTA’s response argues for a strong National Organic Standards Board role and grounds for going forward with the necessary improvements to the organic standards. Read Organic Trade Association’s response and complete statement regarding the motion to dismiss.

Supporting the Organic Trade Association in the suit are organizations representing organic livestock farmers, brands, organic retailers, and consumers. Their declarations of support for the Organic Trade Association’s claims in the lawsuit provide real-world evidence of harm resulting from USDA’s refusal to follow through on organic animal welfare provisions. Meanwhile, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR)—the original visionaries who introduced the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) in Congress—submitted a comment to the Federal Register showing the environment of the time and intentions of legislators when OFPA was adopted in 1990. Here are the additional declarations submitted along with the Organic Trade Association’s response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s motion to dismiss.

Organic Trade Association (joined by more than 70,000 organic advocates) filed comments in opposition to the proposed withdrawal of animal welfare standards in organic.

In an outrageous move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that they intend to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule. This USDA action goes against the overwhelming support of organic farmers, businesses, and consumers to advance animal welfare standards in organic.  The Organic Trade Association is dismayed at USDA's proposal to withdraw the rule and rollback organic animal care standards.  USDA opened a scant 30-day public comment period on the proposal (deadline Jan 17) and along with more than 70,000 organic advocates, OTA has filed comments. Read our media statement and view our final comments

OTA Final Comments: Filed 1/17/18

Organic Trade Association to take the U.S. Department of Agriculture to court over organic animal welfare rule

On November 9, 2017, USDA pre-published an announcement in the Federal Register that the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule would be further delayed until May 14, 2018. The Organic Trade Association responded by amending its complaint and strengthening the call for the final animal welfare rule to move forward.

In defense of the integrity of the USDA Organic seal and of organic standards, the Organic Trade Association in September filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeking judicial review of the delay of final organic livestock production rules. The lawsuit is pending and the USDA must answer it by mid-November. 

The Organic Trade Association has anticipated a further "walk back" by the government of fourteen 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. 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. 

We will see the department in court and are confident that we will prevail on this important issue for the organic sector.

On September 13, 2017, the Organic Trade Association took action to defend the organic seal and organic standards by filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its failure to put into effect new organic livestock standards.

AlertOrganic Trade Association sues USDA over failure to advance organic livestock standards. Read the full press release.

The suit alleges the U.S. Department of Agriculture violated the Organic Foods Production Act, and unlawfully delayed the effective date of the final livestock standards that were developed by industry and in accordance with the processes established by Congress, and with abusing the agency’s discretion by ignoring the overwhelming public record established in support of these organic standards. The trade association further contends that the Trump Administration’s Regulatory freeze order issued to federal agencies on Jan. 20, 2017, should not apply to organic standards because they are voluntary and are required only of those farms and businesses that opt in to be certified organic.

“We are standing up on behalf of the entire organic sector to protect organic integrity, advance animal welfare, and demand the government keep up with the industry and the consumer in setting organic standards.” 
–Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association.

Supporting the Organic Trade Association in the suit, as groups harmed by this protracted government inaction, are organizations representing organic livestock farmers, organic retailers and consumers.

Batcha said the Organic Trade Association’s duty to protect the U.S. organic sector and enable it to advance, to uphold the integrity of the organic seal and to honor the consumer trust in that seal compelled the association – on behalf of the organic industry -- to take the legal action against the administration.

“The organic industry takes very seriously its contract with the consumer and will not stand aside while the government holds back the meaningful and transparent choice of organic foods that deliver what the consumer wants,” said Batcha. “The government’s failure to move ahead with this fully-vetted regulation calls into question the entire process by which organic regulations are set – a process that Congress created, the industry has worked within, and consumers trust.”

“The viability of the organic market rests on consumer trust in the USDA organic seal, and trust that the organic seal represents a meaningful differentiation from other agricultural practices,” said Batcha, who noted that the board of the Organic Trade Association voted unanimously to initiate the lawsuit.


The lawsuit filed by the Organic Trade Association alleges:

• That USDA has violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the repeated delays were issued without any public process.
• That USDA has violated the Administrative Procedure Act and abused its discretion by proposing action to indefinitely delay or kill the rule, in stark contrast to the established public process.
• That USDA has violated the Organic Foods Production Act and its consultation provisions enacted to apply in just these circumstances for industry and public stakeholders to revise, refine, and advance organic standards via a well defined process.
• That the Trump Administration Executive Order freezing regulations should not apply to the voluntary industry-driven organic standards that allow for busineesses to opt in or out.

The lawsuit also describes the extensive public process and overwhelming record used to develop the standards and details the faulty appeals decision from USDA on the use of “porches” to comply with the existing outdoor access requirments of the standard that have resulted in an unlevel playing field.

The Organic Trade Association asks the court to reverse the agency’s decisions to delay and eliminate options proposed by USDA to further delay, rewrite, or permanently shelve the rule -- thereby making the final livestock rule effective immediately, as written.

COMPLAINT FILED [AMENDED] BY ORGANIC TRADE ASSOCIATION  Declaration: Pete and Gerry's Declaration: NCG Declaration: ACA



Kelley Poole
Vice President, Government Affairs
(202) 403-8511