Last week, President Donald Trump made a big deal out of his desire to eliminate what his administration sees as pernicious government regulations, cutting literal red tape with golden scissors. With a new proposal by the USDA, it looks like his administration has found another way to get back at that dastardly Obama while also creating unnecessary confusion about what exactly constitutes an organic egg.
Essentially, the USDA wants to overturn an Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule that requires something resembling humane conditions in order for poultry, eggs and other animal products to be considered organic. Codified two days before Obama left office and not set to be enforced until 2018, this new regulation would have mandated that poultry have enough free space to spread their wings, as well as access to fresh air, good ventilation, and natural light.
Instead, only hypothetical access to an enclosed “porch” attached to what might as well otherwise be a factory farm will be enough to allow producers to slap on the “organic” label. In a statement announcing their plans for regulatory rollback, the USDA says anything else would “exceed [the organization’s] statutory authority,” given that the 1990 law which ushered the idea of organic food into consumer consciousness somehow doesn’t allow for “broadly prescriptive, stand-alone animal welfare regulations.”
In addition to creating more confusion in the dairy aisle, this undoing of proposed regulations would be a massive blow to organic egg producers like Jesse Laflamme who’ve prioritized animal welfare over profit margins. “[This] is going to be destructive for the whole industry,” said the CEO of Pete and Gerry’s organics, which holds its producers to high animal welfare standards. “What's so upsetting is that there is such a gap between what organic consumers expect and what these factory farms are producing."
While Trump’s USDA claims organic farmers support the move, hiding behind the same ‘regulations stifle market innovation!’ logic that justified the massively unpopular decision to overturn Obama-era Net Neutrality protections, that seems to not be the case. According to reporting from NPR, the Organic Trade Association has voiced its displeasure, declaring that it will challenge the deregulation in court if need be.
Not every instance of government bureaucracy is going to make sense, but it’s clear that some regulations exist for a reason. Just know that next time you find “organic” eggs at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is.