Will Trump and Congress overturn USDA's new organic livestock rules?

Dive Brief:

  • A new set of rules governing the treatment of animals sold as organic, called the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices, received final federal approval last week and is likely to be one of the Obama administration's last U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, according to an article in Civil Eats.
  • Praised by animal welfare activists, the new rules require animals to be able to exhibit natural behavior — the ability to sit, walk, stretch and stand without touching other animals or the sides of the pen, as well as having free and clear access to the outside — in order to receive an organic certification, according to an article in The Hill.
  • While animal rights activists are cheering the new rules, they are being decried by some of the farmers who will have to deal with them. National Pork Producers Council President John Weber called them "precisely the type of executive branch overreach that Congress will reign in through regulatory reform" in a statement. The organization has vowed to work with President-elect Trump and the new Republican-controlled Congress to have the rules overturned.

Dive Insight:

While many regulatory policies handed down from the executive branch can be polarizing, the backlash on this one is especially stiff. While it may feel to some like a last-minute move, the regulatory process for organic meat and poultry has been in motion for many months. The rule was first proposed in April 2016 and the government received 6,710 comments on the regulation last summer. The rule is expected to be printed in the Federal Register before the last day of the Obama administration on Friday.

The idea of this particular regulation itself is not new, with some of the suggestions for the rule coming from the National Organic Standards Board, the advisory USDA committee that makes organic policy recommendations, as long ago as 1994.

The National Pork Producers Council, which is at the forefront of the opposition, submitted comments on the regulation this summer as well. According to the group's statement, they argued that this regulation has no scientific justification, and it takes away producers' discretion to do what is best for their animals.

This isn't the only set of agricultural regulations coming at the end of Obama's presidency that has been unpopular with pork producers. A write-up on NPPC's homepage against a different set of regulations dealing with livestock pricing and litigation — which became an interim final rule last month — says they are "an apparent attack on rural America for its role in helping elect Donald Trump as president." 

The sharp opposition to the regulation coupled with the incoming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress means the new rule may be nothing more than an exercise in futility. Although the president-elect and the new Congress have not stated their positions on this particular regulation, Republicans and Trump generally support fewer regulations on industry.

While the animal welfare regulations may be beneficial to animals and consumers seeking higher standards for organics, the anti-regulatory sentiment from the producer community may scuttle the rules before they even take effect. After all, with some of the more conservative members of Congress pushing to get rid of the National Organic Program itself and aspects of the Food Safety Modernization Act intended to prevent intentional adulteration, a less involved and brand new regulation like this could quickly be dropped.

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Filed Under: Policy Meat / Protein
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