Farmers and ranchers lose by repeal of Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices standards

The Center for Rural Affairs stands for rural communities, and we, too, believe that an essential foundation for vital rural communities consists of a healthy economy and diverse farming models. Many of the policies we support – organic agriculture, Value-Added Producer Grants, rural microloans – we chose to fight for because they make space for farmers and ranchers to access new or alternative income streams.

We are concerned that some of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent actions directly undermine this vision, by the removal of several rules.

Last week, USDA decided to roll back the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. This rule was meant to strengthen animal welfare standards for the organic program, and had the overwhelming support of organic farmers and ranchers and other stakeholders in the organic industry. Along with 72 other organizations, we signed a letter to USDA Sec. Don Perdue stating our support for retaining the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices. Although a final rule was issued in 2017, USDA has now reversed its decision, ignored public support, and withdrawn the rule altogether.

We see an unfortunate similarity with USDA’s decision last year to delay, and finally cancel, the Farmer Fair Practices Rules, or the GIPSA rules. These rules would have brought greater fairness to contract poultry and livestock production and would have helped level the playing field for these producers nationwide.

Both the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices and the Farmer Fair Practices Rules would have made more space in agriculture for farmers and ranchers to pursue diverse livestock and poultry production practices. The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices would have strengthened the organic program, a voluntary set of standards that farmers and ranchers choose, in part, because of the economic opportunity they offer. The Farmer Fair Practices Rules would have made poultry and livestock production a more viable path of production for many farmers and ranchers.

Unfortunately, USDA does not share this vision, and chose to roll back these provisions.

While such losses can be discouraging, we refuse to give up the fight for strong, rural communities. But, we cannot do it alone. You can help us by following our website, signing up for our email list, and continuing to pay attention to the actions of your legislators and other elected officials. Policy change is always a long road, but being alongside our wonderful supporters makes the hard work worth it.