US: Court battle to defend organic standards advanced

The Organic Trade Association on Thursday asked the U.S. District Court to rule in its favor on its organic livestock welfare lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In its motion for summary judgment, the trade association stated that USDA acted in an unlawful, arbitrary and capricious way when it killed new organic livestock standards centered around improving animal care and welfare.
 
The Organic Trade Association argued USDA’s blocking of the implementation and rescission of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule in 2018 were actions plainly in excess of lawful authority and, if not corrected, threaten the consumer trust and historical growth that organic has always enjoyed. The motion asked the court to immediately vacate USDA’s rescission and compel implementation of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule.
 
The association contends the case has importance to all organic stakeholders because USDA made legal arguments that will reverberate adversely for years if not corrected by the federal judiciary. The association argues that USDA’s refusal to exercise its statutory authority to promote the improved livestock care practices on organic farms that were lost when the OLPP was rescinded and its refusal to consult with the National Organic Standards Board, are a radical departure from past administrations, and flatly contradict the intent of Congress in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).
 
The association further challenges USDA’s opaque assumptions over the cost and benefits of the approved regulation.
 
The filing’s conclusion on USDA’s flawed economic analysis states that USDA “has inconsistently and opportunistically framed the costs and benefits of the OLPP,” and failed to “meaningfully consider” the rule’s substantial benefits. The filing further states that in USDA’s economic arguments, the agency neglected to support its own judgments and in fact, “contradicted itself.”  
 
The filing by the Organic Trade Association marked an important step in its battle to uphold and defend organic standards from erosion under this administration. 
 
“The Organic Trade Association took this serious action against the Department of Agriculture more than two years ago, and since then, we have proved to the court that the federal government has failed to hold up its end in the unique public/private partnership that has been the hallmark of the American organic sector,” said Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association. “This case is of major significance to all organic farmers and to all consumers of organic products, and we urge the court to now resolve the issue and rule in our favor so that organic can continue to advance.”
 
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, after more than a decade of extensive public input and a thorough vetting process. USDA in March of 2018 withdrew the final OLPP regulation, which was to go into effect in May 2018. Before the withdrawal, the agency attempted six times – either through the rulemaking process or through court filings – to delay the implementation of the rule, which had been developed by the organic industry and in accordance with the established federal rulemaking process. USDA failed to consult with the National Organic Standards Board on the withdrawal of the final rule, and arbitrarily ignored the overwhelming public record established in support of these organic standards.
 
The Organic Trade Association filed its initial lawsuit against USDA in September 2017 over the department’s delays in implementing the final OLPP rule. 
 
USDA’s cross-motion for summary judgment and opposition to the trade association’s s motion is now due Dec. 4. The Organic Trade Association’s answer to USDA’s cross-motion is due Dec. 31. USDA gets a final reply on Jan. 28.  Sometime after that, the court will rule on the case.
 
”We are confident that our fight to protect and uphold organic standards will prevail,” said Batcha. “We look forward to a final ruling by the court that will safeguard the integrity of the USDA Organic seal, protect organic farmers, and honor the trust of consumers.”

For more information:
Organic Trade Association
444 N. Capitol St. NW, Suite 445A
Washington D.C. 20001
T: 202-403-8520
www.ota.com


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