May Policy Update

May, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Origin of Livestock

In early May, the White House completed its review of a notice from the USDA about the long-delayed origin of livestock rulemaking. This rule needs to be updated to close a loophole in the organic standards that is being exploited by large dairy operations. The review process at the White House is far from transparent – we don’t know what is in the document sent by USDA, just that it was sent and that the White House has sent it back to USDA. We expect USDA to publish the notice soon.

Economic Stimulus and Pandemic Response

USDA is making supplemental payments to producers of cattle and some row crops who received payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) 1 and 2 last year. Producers do not have to do anything else to receive these supplemental payments if they were in the system last year. Additionally, USDA announced that it was reopening the sign-up period for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days. If you did not apply to CFAP 2 last year and are interested, you can get more information on USDA’s website.

Climate Policy

In late April, OFA submitted a detailed comment, and a petition signed by over 1000 people, to the USDA about the department’s strategy on the climate crisis. We emphasized the need for high integrity in the organic standards, especially upgrading rules and enforcement to make sure organic livestock are raised in high welfare pasture-based systems and making sure soil is the foundation of organic production. [Do we want to post the climate comment and link to it? It should be in the policy folder.] In Congress, the debate about climate and agriculture continues because of the push by President Biden to pass an infrastructure package – several bills related to agriculture and climate have been introduced in hopes that some pieces of those bills will be included in an infrastructure package passed by Congress later this summer.

New Efforts to Increase Organic Integrity

With several critical rulemakings still stuck inside the USDA, including updates to the Origin of Livestock rule, reinstating the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, and finishing the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule, the level of frustration in the organic community continues to rise. At the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in late April, the new Deputy Undersecretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs as well as the administrator of the National Organic Program referenced these critical improvements to the organic standards, but did not offer any concrete updates on when the agency would finalize the rules. At the close of the NOSB meeting, board’s chair Steve Ela, an organic farmer from Colorado, made a point of saying that the board was excited to see a new bill in Congress (discussed below) to address the backlog of NOSB recommendations that the USDA has not moved into regulations. As the delays drag on, there were several new efforts in the organic community to increase the pressure on USDA to speed up the process.

On Earth Day, Francis Thicke, a former member of the NOSB wrote an open letter, signed by 40 other former NOSB board members, to the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The letter expressed their “concern that the integrity of the National Organic Standards has eroded significantly over the years” and that the “erosion of the Organic Standards is in violation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and is undermining consumer confidence in the integrity of organic food and the confidence of real organic farmers in the integrity of the USDA National Organic Program.”

On April 30th, the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act was introduced by Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Ron Kind (D-WI). The legislation would require the USDA to advance and implement recommendations from the organic industry in a timely manner and to ensure the continuous improvement of organic standards. OFA has endorsed this bill.

The bill would create three pathways to create continuous improvement:

  • The bill requires USDA to issue an Organic Improvement Action Plan to address the backlog of recommendations by the NOSB that have not been implemented. The plan must include detailed timelines, prioritization, and implementation plans for dealing with each recommendation.
  • When the NOSB passes a recommendation that is supported by the majority of the board, the bill requires USDA to issue a final rule implementing the recommendation within two years.
  • The bill requires USDA to report annually to Congress on whether accredited third-party certifiers have implemented new rules and guidance, and identify any inconsistencies found.

Take Action on Climate Change

As Congress starts to finally get serious about legislation to tackle climate change, one bill called the Agriculture Resilience Act would expand existing USDA research and conservation programs to create farmer-driven solutions, and includes specific support for organic production such as expanded certification cost-share program. The bill focuses on six policy areas to give farmers the tools they need for agriculture to become net-zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Tell your Representative and Senators to support the Agriculture Resilience Act (S. 1337 in the Senate, HR 2803 in the House.) You can go here to read more about the bill and take action on the OFA website.