- For the second time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has delayed the implementation of an Obama-era rule that would regulate the treatment and living conditions of organic poultry and livestock, according to Bloomberg BNA.
- The rule, issued by the Obama administration, was originally scheduled to go into effect on March 20. In February, the USDA delayed the rule's implementation until May 19. That has now been pushed back until November 14 as the USDA seeks further comment and reviews the rule.
- In the filing in the Federal Register, the USDA said it will assess four options on the rule: 1) allowing the rule to take effect; 2) freezing the rule indefinitely for review; 3) further delaying implementation; 4) rescinding the rule. The USDA is now taking comments on the rule, which are due 30 days from May 10.
The fate of the USDA rule tightening living standards for organic poultry and livestock is up in the air.
Issued in the final days of the Obama administration, the measure requires 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 organic certification. Animal rights activists praised the rule at the time, while agricultural groups, led by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), decried the rule as executive overreach and said it would raise costs for producers and consumers. The NPPC vowed to work with the new Trump administration to overturn it.
The multiple delays on implementing the rule suggest the USDA is having some concerns about it, and there is a real possibility it may never go into effect. The USDA is now asking for public comment on the rule again. The government already received 6,710 comments on the regulation after it was first proposed in April 2016. At the time, the NPPC argued the regulation has no scientific justification and takes away producers' discretion to do what is best for their animals.
The Organic Trade Association criticized the delay.
"The organic industry takes (Secretary Sonny Perdue) at his word that USDA just needs a bit more time. But after more than a decade of work, now spanning three administrations, this delay will not reveal any new information," the trade group said. "Under a business friendly administration, we are confident the secretary will see the benefits for producers."
If the rule were to take effect, it could dent revenues for organic egg and poultry farmers in particular. A USDA report issued in January on the impact of the rule projected it would cost those farmers between $8.2 million and $31 million per year to comply for the first five years under the rule. That contrasts with $670 million in organic egg sales and $494 million in organic poultry sales in 2015. However, the USDA also estimated egg producers also would see benefits from the rule between $4.1 million to $49.5 million annually.
When all is said and done, the continuing backlash from trade groups and Republicans may ultimately kill the rule. Arguments of regulatory overreach and high costs of compliance for businesses have held sway with the new Trump administration on numerous occasions — and the USDA has now given the public and industry more time to say their piece.