Washington, D.C. - Two major animal rights groups have joined the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) court battle against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) failure to enact new organic livestock standards.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) are now co-plaintiffs in the OTA's suit.  The ASPCA is North America’s oldest humane organization with roughly 2.7 million supporters nationwide. The Animal Welfare Institute is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people, and has sought to improve the welfare of farm animals since the early 1950s.

As WholeFoods Magazinereportedin March, the USDA announced it would withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) regulation, saying it exceeded the department’s “statutory authority.”  The move reversed a regulation signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 19, just before he left office.  It would have increased federal regulation of livestock and poultry for certified organic producers and handlers, requiring organic egg factories to provide their hens with outdoor space to graze. The department said imposing new requirements would discourage farmers from obtaining organic certification.

The USDA has also contended that the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) gives the National Organic Program the authority to regulate only veterinary medications, not animal care, welfare or production standards. The OTA's amended complaint - filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia - argues that this new claim by USDA is a “novel and erroneous” view of OFPA that “conflicts with every prior administration’s approach to rulemaking under the OFPA and the National Organic Standards Board," according to apress release.

“We welcome the critical support of our friends in the animal welfare community in standing up against the Administration’s attack on this important organic standard,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the OTA

“In USDA’s attempt to kill this fully vetted final regulation, they’ve taken a radical departure from conclusions reached over more than 20 years of rule makings regarding organic livestock care, and have assumed an aberrant view that has no historical basis or legal justification," she added.

The OTA is also challenging USDA’s assertion that it does not have to consult with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) -- the advisory board to the National Organic Program established by OFPA – before withdrawing the regulation.

“The organic standard-making process established by Congress requires consultation with the National Organic Standards Board to make or amend existing organic standards,” said Batcha. “The day the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final regulation was published, it became the regulation of the National Organic Program. Withdrawal of this regulation requires NOSB’s consultation and review.”

The OTA also maintains that the USDA has disregarded the overwhelming support from the public for the organic animal welfare rule.

“USDA knows the public overwhelmingly supports the implementation of the OLPP regulation. Indeed, in its announcement to withdraw the rule, USDA noted that out of the 72,000 comments it received, over 63,000 opposed the withdrawal of the final rule, and that only 50 supported its withdrawal,” said Batcha. “But despite the clear evidence of the public sentiment, USDA is acting against the will of the public, and the will of the organic sector."

If enacted, the withdrawal of the OLPP ruling becomes effective May 13, 2018.