The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Email:,

Organic Advocates and Farmers Sue over Trump Withdrawal of Widely-Supported Organic Livestock Welfare Rule

Nonprofits challenge new Trump view of organic that would gut the label.


Today, nonprofit public interest organizations led by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued the Trump Administration's Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Secretary Sonny Perdue, over last week's decision to withdraw the organic regulations for animals on certified organic farms, called the "Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices" rule.

The regulation, finalized by the Obama USDA in early 2017, strengthened the minimum requirements for the care and well-being of animals on organic farms. Most notably, it established clear minimum spacing requirements and specified the quality of outdoor space that must be provided for organic poultry. The regulation was the culmination of over a decade of work by organic stakeholders and the National Organic Standards Board. The Trump administration delayed the final rule's effective date three times, and then formally withdrew it.

"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. "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."

In the March 13th decision, USDA claimed the animal care regulations could not be issued because the agency lacked the authority to regulate practices such as animal space and preventative health care for livestock under the Organic label. With this decision, the Trump administration made a complete reversal of the legal and policy positions that the USDA has held for 28 years, since the inception of organic, and what organic consumers and farmers believe: that organic standards do include considerations of livestock care and husbandry. It also claimed that the regulations would be costly, despite its own economic analysis finding only minor costs.

CFS, as well as tens of thousands of organic consumers and farmers, expressed nearly unanimous opposition to the proposed rule withdrawal in January. A 2017 survey by Consumers Union found that 9 out of 10 respondents who regularly buy organic foods believe that it is very or extremely important that organic animals come from farms with high standards for welfare practices.

"Organic consumers and producers believe that Organic means providing animals with sufficient space, meaningful outdoor access, proper lighting, appropriate diets, and clean conditions," said Cameron Harsh, CFS senior manager for organic and animal policy. "If not reversed, the new Trump decision will shatter confidence in the standard's integrity and trust that all products carrying the organic seal were produced with care for animals and the environment. It will allow honest and well-intended organic farmers that have always raised their livestock under a high standard of care to be undercut by fake organic production that is little more than animal factories."

Represented by CFS legal counsel, the plaintiffs are Center for Food Safety, Center for Environmental Health, Cultivate Oregon, and International Center for Technology Assessment, nonprofits with missions that include protecting the integrity of the Organic label. In 2016, Center for Food Safety and Center for Environmental Health successfully sued over a USDA loophole that would have allowed pesticide-contaminated compost in organic production.

Center for Food Safety's mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment. CFS's successful legal cases collectively represent a landmark body of case law on food and agricultural issues.

(202) 547-9359