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The U.S. Department of Agriculture Is Being Gutted Under Trump

Under Trump's USDA, buying organic may not mean what you think it does.

Gutting regulations is nothing new for the Trump administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not immune. The USDA announced the decision in the spring to withdraw from the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule published on January 19, 2017. Withdrawal became effective on May 13, 2018.

The rule sets production standards for organic livestock and poultry. It establishes “clear standards” for raising, transporting, and slaughtering organic animals and poultry. The stated reason for the need of the rule is that a “lack of clarity in organic livestock and poultry standards has led to inconsistent practices among organic producers.”

Poultry is a good example of why the rule is needed. The U.S. has two different organic egg production systems: operations that provide birds access to pasture and ones whose outdoor space is an enclosed porch with a roof, mesh walls and cement floor. Both systems are able to use the organic seal and receive a premium from consumers. There have been multiple recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member Federal advisory committee, and an Office of Inspector General audit asking the USDA for consistency in organic livestock and poultry production.

The USDA has withdrawn the rule because it “exceeds the Department’s statutory authority and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program, including real costs for producers and consumers.”

The American public supports the rule. A 2017 survey by Consumer Reports found that 86 percent of consumers who always or often buy organic food think it is “highly important” that animals used to produce food are raised on farms with “high standards for animal welfare.” And 83 percent of consumers think that organic eggs are produced from hens with access to outdoor space and adequate space to freely move around.

Environmental organizations file a lawsuit against the Trump administration

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the withdrawal of the rule. The suit claims that the USDA’s withdrawal of the rule “violates the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and threatens to undermine the very integrity of the organic label that consumers trust and producers rely upon.” Other organizations joined the lawsuit, including the Center for Environmental Health, Cultivate Oregon, and International Center for Technology Assessment.

“The Trump administration’s outrageous and unlawful decision is an existential threat to the future of Organic as a meaningful label that Americans can rely on,” said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director and counsel in the case, in a statement.

“The hardworking American families who spend the extra money to buy organic food do not deserve to be cheated by the President’s endorsement of ‘fake’ organic.”

 

The Trump administration delayed the rule’s effective date three times before withdrawing it. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration in September 2017 for delaying the rule’s effective date.

The USDA is in conflict with sound science

The USDA under Trump is in conflict with sound science, as a recent blog post by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) points out. The new USDA chief scientist nominee is Scott Hutchins, former Dow executive who focused on developing pesticides. He is a “pesticide guy, “as the UCS puts it, with over 30 years of ties to Dow and other agribusiness corporations.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the reorganization of the USDA to “improve customer service, strengthen offices and programs, and save taxpayer dollars.” The reorganization proposal would take the Economic Research Service, which is currently within the USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics, and places it in the Secretary’s office. That reorganization “has implications for whoever takes up the post of chief scientist,” according to the UCS.

A recently released survey of over 4,200 federal scientists found that science is facing big problems under the Trump administration. Almost 80 percent of respondents reported that the scientific workforce is shrinking due to retirements, buyouts and hiring freezes, and 87 percent said that this is making their agency less effective.


Image credit: Patrick Denker, courtesy Flickr

 

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