The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) on April 12 joined the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture. The suit seeks to force the USDA to implement the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule that was finalized in early 2017. The OLPP rule would have set minimum welfare standards for the millions of farm animals raised each year under the USDA’s National Organic Program.
“AWI was gravely disappointed by the department’s withdrawal of the OLPP rule because it had been widely praised by animal advocates, consumer protection groups, and the vast majority of the organic livestock industry,” said Erin Thompson, staff attorney for the AWI farm animal program. “Despite broad support, and decades of work spent advancing the rule through the National Organic Standards Board and the rulemaking process, the department issued an arbitrary reversal that undermines the mandate of the Organic Foods Production Act.”
OTA’s amended complaint, filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the USDA’s delay and withdrawal of the OLPP rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Organic Foods Production Act. The USDA justified its move by stating that it now interprets the Organic Foods Production Act to mean the department can only regulate animal health care, not animal welfare.
AWI strongly disagrees with the USDA’s new position. Not only has the department already determined it has the authority to regulate animal welfare, it has consistently done so in the past. Additionally, research conducted by AWI—summarized in a report released today—demonstrates that animal health and animal welfare are inextricably linked.
“The relationship between animal health and animal welfare has been extensively documented by the findings of hundreds of scientific studies conducted over the past half century,” said Dena Jones, director of AWI’s farm animal program. “In fact, the USDA’s own in-house research arm, the Agricultural Research Service, has played an essential role in establishing this link.”
Various animal health authorities, including national and international veterinary bodies, as well as animal agriculture associations, have acknowledged—and acted upon—the connection between animal health and welfare. As demonstrated by several case studies presented in the AWI report, the animal agriculture industry has voluntarily limited or eliminated certain previously common animal husbandry practices—changes that provide better animal welfare and a resulting improvement in the health of the animals.