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Organic Consumers Association

Consumer Victory: USDA Proposes Mandatory Pasture and Feed Requirements for Organic Dairy Farms

Web Note: The Organic Consumers Association is happy to see that the USDA, with this new proposed Federal Regulation published Oct. 23, 2008, has finally decided to listen to organic consumers, family-scale organic dairy farmers, and the National Organic Standards Board and require mandatory pasture requirements for every day of the growing season (minimum 120 days) for dairy (and beef) cattle, with a minimum requirement that 30% of organic cattle feed come from pasture. This will hopefully put an end to massive, intensive confinement dairy operations, such as those utilized by Aurora, Horizon, Rockview, and Shamrock, falsely labeling their milk as "USDA Organic." After years of delay, boycotts, and lawsuits, OCA wants to see this new mandatory pasture and feed rule implemented and enforced as soon as possible.

OCA, however, rejects the section of USDA's proposed regulation that would allow non-organic heifers (young milk cows) from conventional farms to be brought onto organic dairy farms and then be considered "organic." This is totally unacceptable, given the fact that USDA regulations for conventional (non-organic) farms allow sewage sludge on cropland and pasture, feeding blood, manure, and slaughterhouse waste to animals, antibiotics, and pesticide-tainted and genetically engineered feed. This section on "herd replacement" of the new proposed rule should read: "Once an operation has been certified for organic production, all dairy animals shall be under organic management from the last third of gestation (pregnancy)."

OCA will be mobilizing its national network over the next 60 days to send in comments to the USDA to enforce its mandatory pasture and feed requirements and to require a single standard for herd replacement that only cows raised organically from birth can be added to organic herds.

Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
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USDA Access to Pasture Rule for Organic Livestock Gets Thumbs Up from the National Organic Coalition  

Alexandria, VA, October 24, 2008 ­ After a two-and-a-half-year wait, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released its draft rule clarifying access to pasture requirements for organic livestock. Today, that document is receiving praise from the members of the National Organic Coalition (NOC). 

"This draft rule provides specific language needed for enforcement of one of the central tenets of organically produced livestock-that organic livestock spend a considerable part of their lives in their natural pasture habitat and receive a significant portion of their food from fresh, green, growing pasture," said Kathie Arnold, NY State organic dairy farmer and President of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), a NOC member. 

The proposed rule requires that animals raised under organic standards have access to natural pastures. Consumer and farmer support for this is strong: The draft rule cites a 2006 Consumers Union survey of 1,485 U.S. adults which found that more than two thirds of all consumers and 75% of women believe that the national organic standards require that animals graze outdoors. 

"This and other polls give a clear indication of consumer sentiment towards organic milk - they want and expect organic dairy cows to be raised on pasture before organic milk ends up on the grocery store shelf," said Rebecca Spector, West Cost Director of the Center for Food Safety, a NOC member. "The new draft rule provides clarity regarding the absolute need for pasture for organic animals. Combined with proper enforcement, this proposed rule will allow consumers to be assured that organic livestock will spend the majority of their lives on pasture."  In addition to consumer demand and animal welfare reasons, there are also strong economic and environmental reasons for required pasturing in organic standards. Pasture intake has been shown to be scientifically correlated with increased levels of healthful vitamins and essential fatty acids in milk and meat, and well-managed pasture reduces input and energy costs, contributing positively to carbon sequestration goals. 

Access to pasture for organic ruminant animals (i.e. cows, sheep and goats) has been a requirement of the USDA organic regulation since its inception. In general, the accredited certifiers that enforce the USDA organic standards have been requiring organic livestock producers to meet this pasture standard since the inception of the program in 2002. However, it has become clear that a few organic dairies have been permitted to sell milk as "organic" even though their cows have not had adequate access to pasture. USDA's National Organic Program has stated that the regulation has been too vague for them to enforce consistently and fairly so farmers, processors and consumers have asked the USDA to clarify the rule requiring quantifiable data. 

Speaking on behalf of the NOC, Michael Sligh, Director of the Just Foods Program at the Rural Advancement Foundation, Inc. in North Carolina, said "NOC members voice their appreciation for the general direction of the rule, and the willingness of USDA to hold listening sessions. We encourage USDA to move ahead to a final rule and enforcement, after fully considering public comments. After a very long wait, we are thankful for USDA's response to the organic community's request for a strict pasture rule."  As drafted, this proposed rule is very comprehensive and will require careful study and comments. NOC members will take a leadership role in developing constructive comments on specific issues raised by this rule.  


Read the proposed pasture rule here.


For the Cornucopia Institute's criticism of the USDA's proposed rule on pasture and herd replacement, "Running Out the Clock for Family Farmers?" go
to: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_15330.cfm



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The National Organic Coalition (NOC) focuses on protecting the stringency and integrity of the national organic standards and is a national alliance of organizations working to provide a "Washington voice" for farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, consumers and progressive industry members involved in organic agriculture. 

NOC seeks to work cooperatively with, and add value to, existing organic and sustainable agriculture organizations, networks and coalitions to ensure a united voice for organic integrity. 

Members include:

* Beyond Pesticides http://www.beyondpesticides.org/

* Center for Food Safety http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/

* Equal Exchange http://www.equalexchange.com/

* Food & Water Watch http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/

* Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association http://www.mofga.org/

* Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services http://www.mosesorganic.org/

* National Cooperative Grocers Association http://www.ncga.coop/

* Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance http://www.nodpa.com/

* Northeast Organic Farming Association -Interstate Council http://www.nofa.org/about.php#council

* Rural Advancement Foundation International -USA http://www.rafiusa.org/

* Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/ 

All the organizations participating in the Coalition have organic agriculture reform as an organizational priority.  
National Organic Coalition
1301 Hancock Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301 

Media Contact: Ed Maltby, 413-427-7323; emaltby@comcast.net Kathie Arnold, 607-842-6631 (h); 607-423-8981 (cell), randkarnold1@juno.com  Liana Hoodes 845-744-2304, liana@hvc.rr.com 

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