In another poke in the eye to agriculture, the Obama administration is set to issue a regulation that adds animal welfare standards to the nation’s organic food production law. The National Pork Producers Council will work with the Trump administration and Congress to repeal yet another “midnight” regulation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s amendment to the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 would strictly dictate how organic producers must raise livestock and poultry, including during transport and slaughter, and specify, without scientific justification, which common practices are allowed and prohibited in organic livestock and poultry production, thereby eliminating producers’ discretion to make sound decisions about animal care. It also would establish unreasonable indoor and outdoor space requirements for animals. The regulation was cleared by the Office of Management and Budget Wednesday, the last step before becoming final.
“This parting gift from Agriculture Secretary [Tom] Vilsack is not welcomed,” said NPPC President John Weber, a pork producer from Dysart. “This unnecessary, unscientific midnight regulation won’t win him any friends in the agriculture community he’s apparently joining. (Vilsack, whose last day at USDA was Friday, is expected to take over the Dairy Export Council.)
“This is precisely the type of executive branch overreach that Congress will reign in through regulatory reform,” Weber said.
NPPC, which in July submitted comments in opposition to the regulation, said the welfare standards are not based on science and are outside the scope of the organic food production law, which limits consideration of livestock as organic to feeding and medication practices. Additionally, the organization pointed out, animal welfare is not unique to organic production.
“Animal production practices have nothing to do with the concept of ‘organic,’” Weber said. “These new standards will present serious challenges to livestock producers and add complexity to the organic certification process, creating significant barriers to existing and new organic producers.
“The standards seem to be based on public perception – or USDA’s understanding of that perception – of what good animal welfare is and don’t reflect a consensus by experts in animal welfare and handling,” he added. “The inclusion of animal welfare requirements into the organic food production law is no different than requiring that all farmers wear bib overalls or paint their barns red in deference to public sentiment.”
Some of the standards even could jeopardize animal and public health, said NPPC in its comments to USDA. The provision on outdoor access, for example, conflicts with best management practices to prevent swine diseases that pose a threat to animal and human health.
The organization also pointed out that livestock industry-driven animal care and handling standards, such as ones included in the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus program, already exist and that such programs can more rapidly accommodate new practices and procedures that promote animal health and welfare than a federal regulation can. Many of the programs already are available to organic producers.