cows in field

Judge gives USDA 6 Months to Fix Organic Livestock Rule Errors

Adapted from an article by Sustainable Food News, March 13, 2020

The federal judge in the ongoing organic livestock welfare lawsuit on Thursday (March 12, 2020) granted the USDA’s request for a six-month remand to correct the flawed analysis behind the withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule.

“This lawsuit represents the administrative process at its never-ending worst,” wrote U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in her order granting the USDA’s request for remand.

Washington, D.C.- based OTA (Organic Trade Association) had filed the lawsuit in September 2017 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Case #: 1:17-cv-01875) alleging the USDA “abused its discretion” and violated the federal Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) by delaying, and ultimately withdrawing, the effective date of the OLPP final rule.

The final rule created more stringent regulations governing the organic certification of livestock and had been issued on the last day of the Obama administration in January 2017, after 10 years of diligent vetting of the rule.

The next month, the Trump administration’s USDA determined that there was little, if any, economic justification for the new regulations. The agency then three times unilaterally issued a rule delaying the effective date of the OLPP rule before issuing a withdrawal rule in March 2018, which effectively terminated the OLPP final rule.

The end of the lawsuit appeared near after the OTA filed its motion for summary judgment in October, “and, after two extensions of time, USDA was expected to file an opposition when it suddenly asked for remand.”

The agency sought the remand “to correct a series of admitted flaws in the cost/benefit analysis in the OLPP rule that were carried over into the withdrawal rule,” according to Judge Collyer’s order. “OTA’s underlying challenges to the withdrawal rule involve claims that USDA incorrectly concluded that it lacked authority to publish the OLPP rule in the first place and that the withdrawal rule contained errors in its economic analysis.”

Judge Collyer said the case is now stayed and remanded to the USDA for a period of no more than 180 days. The order requires the parties to submit a joint status report no later than Sept. 8, or two weeks after a revised final rule has been published, whichever is earlier.

“At the end of the day and despite this delay, we are more confident than ever that our arguments will prevail and that the will of the industry will be served,” OTA said in a statement. “We are confident that the OLPP will ultimately be reinstated.”

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