Court Advances OTA’s Lawsuit Against USDA

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Washington, D.C.—The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has presented solid arguments that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s failure to put into effect new organic livestock standards has caused harm to the organic sector, and that the association has the legal standing to contest the agency’s withdrawal of the rule, according to a press release from the OTA.

The USDA in March of 2018 withdrew the final Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) regulation, which was to go into effect in May. It contends that the Organic Food and Production Act does not give the National Organic Program the authority to regulate animal welfare. The OTA, the press release says, is arguing that this claim is a radically different view from any administration since the creation of the National Organic Program, and that it cannot be legally supported.

The release says that in its ruling, the Court rejected USDA’s arguments that the case should be dismissed, saying “The OLPP Withdrawal Rule drops the baseline for USDA certification and alters the regulatory landscape to the detriment of OTA’s members. Just as OTA’s members would have had standing to challenge any rollbacks of USDA’s organic certification program before the Final OLPP Rule, so too they have standing now to challenge rollbacks of the USDA’s certification program as constituted after the final OLPP Rule.”

In its lawsuit, the press release says, the OTA also argued that the USDA violated the Organic Foods Production Act by failing to consult with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The court said: “The Final OLPP Rule was the largest and most important organic rule promulgated since the 2010 Access to Pasture Rule and USDA consulted over its development with the Board. As such, § 6503 may have required USDA to consult on a timely basis with the NOSB before finalizing the OLPP Withdrawal Rule, which is similarly large and important.”

Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the OTA, said in the release: “The court has recognized the harm to organic producers, to organic businesses, and to the integrity of the organic seal that the USDA’s arbitrary and capricious stance against this important organic standard has already had, and the potential for even greater damage. We will continue to insist that organic standards be robust, consistent, and clear in order to stay meaningful.”

Background on this case can be found here.

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