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USDA Closes Organic Milk Loophole

Consumers can rest assured that organic milk can be associated with images of cows on green pastures, eating grass still attached to the soil, in a herd, taking in the sunshine. 

"We've been trying to get the pasture rule clarified and educate consumers about the organic frauds going on," said Honor Schauland, campaign assistant at the Organic Consumers Association.  "This is a big victory for us." 

The new USDA regulation surfaces after a five-year consultation process and 26,000 comments from farmers, retailers and trade associations.   

Since 2000, all organic dairy farms must use organic feed, without antibiotics or hormones. This new regulation requires that dairy cows graze during the grazing season, for a minimum of 120 days, as opposed to the previous rules that were vague and required only access to pasture, but not necessarily the use of it. 

It was this vague terminology - of access versus mandatory grazing - that caused a divide in the organic milk community between smaller farmers and larger corporate operations.

Two corporate operations, Aurora Organic (which makes the private label milk for Costco) and Horizon (owned by Dean Foods) received negative attention for the lack of grass feed, and the confinement of animals in pens, even though they were technically following the organic standards. 

"There's no longer this gray area of 'what is the requirement'," Schauland said.  "The next step is enforcement."