Without the action, the new requirements under the National Organic Program would have taken effect today. Meat and poultry products labeled as “USDA Organic” would fall under the proposed Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP), which mandate specific animal welfare practices.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s subagency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), announced the implementation delay on Nov. 9, saying the 180-day postponement until 2018 is necessary because it discovered “a material error the record.” The AMS promised additional cost and benefit analysis before any “final decision on the direction of the rule.”
The notice says AMS “discovered a significant, material error in the mathematical calculation of the benefits estimates.”
“With the material error, the regulatory impact analysis presented costs and benefits in a table that could be reasonably interpreted to conclude that benefits were likely to exceed costs,” but the agency now believes the calculations were flawed, according to the AMS announcement.
The AMS is re-opening to comments the question of “calculation of benefits,” regulatory policy principals, and whether the Organic Farming Policy Act (OFPA) is limited to health care practices. Once the notice is published in the Federal Register, a comment docket will be available on the regulations.gov website.
Today’s notice says USDA received more than 47,000 comments supporting OLPP implementation as written, but more than 34,600 of those were form letters, according to current agency leaders. An estimated 350 organic livestock producers with sales of $1.95 billion and industry groups like the Organic Trade Association are among those wanting the OLPP implemented as drafted during the Obama Administration.
The implementation delay has already been blasted by Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.
“There is no justification for delaying these standards,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union.
“Consumers who buy organic expect farmers to follow strict standards, including rules to help ensure the health and well-being of animals. But without this rule, consumers will have no way of knowing if eggs and chicken labeled organic come from birds that were able to roam outside or whether their only access was a tiny porch.”
Some veterinarians and individual farmers weighed in with comments about biosecurity and food safety risks and potentially higher avian mortality rates for chickens allowed to roam outdoors. They also expressed doubts about the benefits of the regulations being worth the costs and suggested the standards be outside the authority of the National Organic Program.
Only “producers and handlers” in the voluntary National Organic Program would fall under the OLPP, which mandates how they must treat livestock and poultry to “ensure their wellbeing,” according to supporters.
The policy initiative was originally announced in the final 24 hours of the Obama Administration.
The effective date of the final rule, published on Jan. 19 at 82 FR 7042, delayed on Febr. 9, at 82 FR 9967, and again on May 10 at 82 FR 21677, is delayed until May 14, 2018, according to the notice from the AMS.