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Intensive Confinement of Dairy Cattle on So-Called Organic Farms

From: Sioux Falls Argus Leader (South Dakota)

Organic milk demand high Ag department adding regulations for farmers PHILIP BRASHER
Des Moines Register September 10, 2005

WASHINGTON - Contented cows lazing on rolling green hills. That is the idyllic image that many consumers have of the farms where organic milk is produced.

The reality is becoming something different. With consumer demand for organic food booming, organic farms are starting to look a lot like the megafarms that dominate the conventional dairy industry - collections of barns housing thousands of cows that spend most of their lives eating feed, not grass. The trend has sparked a battle among organic farmers, many of whom fear that their business is headed the way of conventional agriculture. The Bush administration is being asked to step in and settle the issue.

The board has proposed changing the Agriculture Department's organic rules and guidance to ensure that cattle are kept on pasture for a significant portion of the year. It won't be enough just to give cattle organic feed, which is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.

Large-scale dairies and even some smaller-scale Midwestern farmers said the standards could be difficult to meet. Advocates of the rule changes said they will protect the industry's image and keep family farms in business.

"As a consumer, I want my organic milk to come from cows that are not confined," said Caron Osberg, an Urbandale, Iowa, woman who reviews organic and natural products on a Web site, www.ahealthy "No compromise on that."

Sales of organic food have grown about 20 percent a year and are expected to reach $15 billion this year, according to the Organic Trade Association. Dairy products account for 13 percent of the organic market.

The organic megafarms include operations in Idaho and California. A Colorado facility owned by Boulder-based Aurora Organic Dairy has more than 5,000 cattle.