August 2022 Policy Update

August 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Animal Welfare Standards Finally on the Move

After years of delay, including lawsuits triggered by the USDA’s decision not to finish an earlier proposal, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards proposed rule is finally moving! Late last week, the USDA released a proposed rule to update the organic standards for how livestock are raised. The proposed rule would not allow porches in chicken houses to qualify as outdoor access, but does request input from the public on how long it should give current operations to come into compliance with tighter standards.

OFA is doing an in-depth analysis of the proposed rule and will share more details about what topics need farmer input during the public comment period. The comment period will be open until early October. USDA is also hosting a virtual listening session on August 19 from 12-2 pm ET. You must register by August 15 to give oral comments during this session.

Congress Injects Funding into Conservation Programs

After more than a year of stops and starts, Congress is about to pass a large spending package to address climate change, including a historic infusion of money into several USDA conservation programs. In late July, after many predictions that there was no chance to pass a bill, Democrats in the Senate came to an agreement on a package of tax reforms and spending on healthcare and climate change. The bill, referred to as budget reconciliation, uses a special procedure that bypasses the normal requirement of 60 votes in the Senate. This means it can be passed with only Democratic votes in the 50-50 Senate. Over the weekend, the Senate passed the bill and the House is expected to return from recess to vote on the bill this Friday.

The bill would provide $18.1 billion over four years for several USDA conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, with a focus on practices that address climate change. It would also provide $2 billion over several years for the Rural Energy for America Program to provide loans and grants to agricultural producers and rural businesses for renewable energy systems. Organic is mentioned as one of many purposes for increased conservation spending, and OFA will be working with our allies to make sure that USDA uses this new funding in ways that work for organic farmers.

This increased funding for conservation programs has also triggered a lot of debate about how it will impact the next Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, and Congress has started the process of developing the next bill. With the new funding provided by the reconciliation bill, the process of writing the Farm Bill could provide another opportunity for Congress to instruct the USDA on how to focus conservation programs.

This summer, OFA has been working with our allies in the organic community to refine our Farm Bill proposals, on fixing organic certification cost-share, supporting organic research, tackling fraud in organic supply chains and other issues.

Annual Spending Bills Support Organic Programs

Congress is also slowly moving through the process of completing the annual spending bills for federal agencies like the USDA. These “appropriations” bills happen every year in a very prescribed process, not to be confused with the special budget reconciliation bill that just passed and provided supplemental funding for specific programs.

In the appropriations bills that have been drafted for the USDA for Fiscal Year 2023 (which starts on October 1st), organic programs are faring well. In July, the full House passed a bill that would increase funding for the National Organic Program and included language to direct the NOP to strengthen their enforcement of organic soil health requirements. At the end of July, the Senate Appropriations Committee released their draft bill, which also included an increase in funding for the NOP and good report language on enforcement. The bill still has to be passed by the full Senate, and then any differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled. It is unlikely that Congress will get all of these steps completed before the October 1st deadline, and will have to pass an extension to let federal agencies continue to run on this year’s budget levels.

Get Involved: Advocate for Organic Farms This Summer!

Many members of Congress, especially members of the Agriculture Committees, are beginning to hold public sessions to get input on the next Farm Bill in their districts this summer. If you have a Senator or Representative serving on the Agriculture Committee, you could call their office to ask if they are planning to have any public sessions to get input on the Farm Bill. Let OFA staff know if you are planning to attend any of these sessions and need any information about organic priorities for the next Farm Bill. For tips on setting up a meeting in your legislator’s district office, check out OFA’s website.