A full-page advertisement in the Jan. 16 edition of The Washington Post consisted of an open letter requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture “stop interfering with the public process that has created clear standards for animal welfare in organic food production,” signed by a range of organic brands, family farmers, food retailers and supporters.
The letter asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to reinstate the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule issued in January 2017, which the signers said is “overwhelmingly supported” by the organic industry and U.S. consumers. The OLPP clarifies and codifies animal welfare practices that align with consumers’ expectations of organic products, according to proponents of the rule.
“USDA believes the OLPP final rule exceeded USDA’s statutory authority beyond the intent of the Organic Foods Production Act,” the agency noted last month as its reason for withdrawing the rule, an action that it decided upon after conducting a review. The move was supported by such groups as the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“We have seen industrial agriculture fight against animal welfare again and again, whether it is cage-free or ending gestation crates,” noted George Siemon, CEO of La Farge, Wis.-based dairy cooperative Organic Valley, which marshalled the letter’s signers. “Now, when organic wants consistent animal welfare standards supported by a strong public process, industrial agriculture’s fears are trumping. They don’t want any expectations for animal welfare in agriculture, period. This is a clear case where USDA replaces established process with the dictate of industrial livestock to stop any animal welfare rules living at USDA — purely political and against organic.”
Added Siemon: “Organic belongs to the people, and the law says so. The organic seal belongs to the farmers, handlers, processors and consumers who choose organic for their families. It is a system that is supported by a stakeholder process, that provides a lifeline to family farms, and that allows consumers to buy food that meets a higher standard for animal welfare.”
The ad also provided a link to Organic Valley’s website that consumers could click on to submit their own comments to the USDA.
In addition to Organic Valley, the letter’s signers included retailers Whole Foods Market and National Co+Op Grocers, as well as such well-known brands as Stonyfield Farms, Horizon Organic, Applegate, Vital Farms, Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, and Maple Hill Creamery. Among the supporting organizations to sign the letter were the Humane Society of the United States, the Organic Trade Association, Environmental Working Group, Oregon Tilth, Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Organic Coalition and the Accredited Certifiers Association.