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Organic Community Losing Patience over USDA Allowing Factory-Style Dairy Farms to Call Themselves Organic

From: Cornucopia Institute

August 24, 2005

Hello all,

Below, please find a brief report, relating to pasture enforcement, on what
occurred at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) last week in
Washington. A news release we are issuing today also follows. Groups,
organizations, and institutions are free to use any of the material
contained in this message for their newsletters or other communications.

At the spring NOSB meeting the board passed two minor rule changes that
would have closed some of the loopholes that large industrial farms were
using to get around the requirement that ruminants (dairy cattle) must be
pastured. The changes would have made it clearer that it is not enough for
animals to have "access to pasture" but that they must in fact "graze."
Large farms were using this loophole to justify confining their cattle even
though pasture was theoretically available. A second rule change would have
made it clear that lactation was not a "stage of production/life," allowing
farmers to ³temporarily" confine their cattle during all or most of

Even though the vast majority of dairy farmers and their certifiers clearly
understand that pasture is at an integral part of organic dairy production,
these rule changes were needed to rein in investors that are spending
millions of dollars attempting to exploit the good reputation organic
agriculture has in the eyes of the consumer.

These rule modifications were well reasoned and insightful. However, they
were suddenly, and without warning, rejected by the USDA National Organic
Program staff at the August NOSB meeting. The staff defined the changes as
ambiguous and without clear regulatory intent.

We objected to the USDA rejecting the NOSB's proposed language without
negotiating an acceptable alternative, if they had legitimate concerns. In
fact, the USDA could have crafted alternative language and presented it to
the board at their meeting last week for approval. Instead, they sent the
rule changes back to the NOSB to start the process over again.

Depending on the NOSB meeting schedule, this might not be taken up again
until next spring. It might take as long as 18 months from that point in
time until these rules take effect as law. And then, farms that are out of
compliance would presumably be given an opportunity to file a new management
plan and modify their operations. Thus, in the best case scenario, it could
be as long as 3-4 years from now until enforcement actions, based on the
proposed rule changes, could take place.

The delay by the USDA is unacceptable on a hot issue, where the organic
community, consumers, and farmers have come to consensus, and it is highly
disrespectful. However, in our opinion, shared by other policy experts, the
current set of rules is being violated, and our filed complaints, pending at
the USDA, very well might lead to an immediate crackdown on the renegade
factory farms
It should be noted that although the USDA has been anything but an ally in
this fight, the members of the National Organic Standards Board truly
deserve our respect and appreciation. They have continued to carefully
listen and take into consideration comments from the public and have taken
aggressive action (passing both the rejected rule changes and a new guidance
document). In this sense, the voices of farmers and consumers have been
heard not change the law itself and, thus, without the rule changes, might not
have the same power in terms of instigating enforcement action. Please click
on the link below for the full text of the guidance document adopted by the

A minor concern we had, in comparison to the impact of delaying pasture
enforcement, is the poor environment at the NOSB meetings for citizen
participation. In the past, NOSB meetings had moved around the country in
order to solicit farmer participation. Now they seem to be permanently
hosted in Washington. It has always been an expensive location for farmers,
but the recent meeting was an abomination. The corporate lobbyists and USDA
staff all have expense accounts to accommodate meeting expenses and
travel rooms are $200­$300 a night, including $30 for parking, is highly
unfortunate. Furthermore, the location of this hotel was remote from any
more reasonable accommodation or choices for nearby economical meal options.

We tried to schedule a working/lunch meeting for farmers prior to the event
and were quoted $20-$40 per person. This was in the meeting room that
already cost $700 for a half day! One farmer told me he passed up the $19
breakfast one morning and instead choose the $6 bagel (plus tax and tip).
He was quickly corrected by his wife who said, no, it was a seven dollar
bagel, because he had the optional cream cheese!

When the meeting was held in Austin, Texas, or La Crosse, Wisconsin,
farmers could find hotel rooms for $50 (with free parking) and many options
for reasonable meals, not to mention that many were close enough to drive to
the event rather than fly. We will again be asking the USDA to schedule
their meetings outside the Beltway, to maximize participation, rather than
holding them at a site most convenient to staff and Washington-based
corporate lobbyists. Maybe a small point, but the organic community
(industry) was developed through a loving/collaborative working relationship
between all stakeholders. It was truly bottom-up, not Washington-down

Finally, our sincere thanks to the farmers who made the trek to Washington
and participated in the strategy meetings and delivered testimony before the
NOSB. Along with the many organic producers from around the country, and
consumers who sent in proxies to back you up, you folks are the real heroes,
and you give the staff at The Cornucopia Institute the benefit of your
knowledge and the moral authority to speak on your behalf. The Northeast
Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and Midwest Organic Dairy Producers
Association both also deserve recognition for their organizing efforts.
Participating at this month's meeting were:

Steve & Gloriann Pechacek, WI <>
Jim & Jackie Greenburg, Stroudsburg, WI
Steve Morrison, Charleston, ME
Steve Bowen of WI
Henry Perkins, Albion, ME
Rick Segalla, Canaan, CT
Mr. and Mrs. Jim Greenberg, WI
Sally Brown, Groton, NY
Kevin & Lisa Engelbert, Nichols, NY
Kathie Arnold, Truxton, NY
Tony Azevedo, Stevinson, CA

Proxy statements were written by :
Lyle Edwards, Westfield, VT
Ernest Martin, Shiloh, OH
Ed Zimba, Deford, MI
Barbara Buchmayer, Purdin, MO

And proxy letters were submitted by almost 400 citizens, mostly dairy
farmers, from around the country, along with hundreds of consumer petitions
in support of strict pasture enforcement. Your backup gave the farmers in
attendance more clout!

Farmers and consumers are the true owners of the organic label and as long
as we continue to work together we can maintain organic integrity and save
the industry from corporate exploitation. We welcome corporate investment
in organics. But these investors must respect the ethics that are the
foundation for the industry's growth and not use illegal tactics that place
family-scale farmers at a competitive and potentially ruinous disadvantage.

Best regards,

Mark Kastel

August 24, 2005


Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

Organic Farmers Lose Patience with USDA

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Organic dairy farmers from around the nation once again
converged on Washington for the semiannual meeting of the USDA's National
Organic Standards Board. The dairy producers attended the August 15­17
meeting to protest the growing number of factory farms that are keeping
their cows in confinement conditions while producing organic milk. These
family farmers are again expressing frustration over the lack of action by
the USDA to enforce the requirement of pasture for organic cattle.

California organic dairyman Tony Azevedo was one of the farmers attending
the NOSB meeting, and he was indignant when the USDA's National Organic
Program staff rejected regulatory language drafted by the National Organic
Standards Board (NOSB), an expert panel that advises the USDA on organic
issues. The proposed rule changes would have reined in the large industrial

"This is a disrespectful process,² Azevedo said after the meeting which took
place at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel in central Washington. "The USDA
has been looking the other way since 2000 as corporate investors launch more
and more of these Oorganic¹ CAFOs [confined animal feeding operations].
This is my third trip to Washington. Are they going to stall long enough to
allow these corporate giants to squeeze family farmers like me out of the
organic business agriculture?" Azevedo asked. ³These Washington bureaucrats are burning me
out; I don't know if I'll be back.²

After years of inaction by the USDA, The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy
research group, filed formal complaints against three of the giant farms in
question early this year. That set off the latest round of negotiations
with the USDA to clean up loopholes in the regulations that have been
exploited by the large corporate players.

"Thousands of petitions, letters, and formal comments to the USDA, from
farmers and consumers alike, along with surveys on the subject, clearly
indicate that the status quo is repugnant and totally unacceptable in the
eyes of the organic community,² said Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst
for the Wisconsin-based Institute.

³Farmers suspect that something is going on out of public view that may
account for the USDA¹s foot dragging on regulating and enforcing the pasture
issue,² said Kastel. ³The NOSB adopted a guidance document that requires that dairy cows be pastured and
receive a significant portion of their feed from grazing. Yet despite this
action we continue to receive more reports that large new confinement
factory dairies, penning thousands of organic cows into small drylots, are
being developed wonder what these corporate developers know that we don¹t,² Kastel added.

As a result, The Cornucopia Institute has filed a Freedom of Information Act
request with the USDA. The request seeks a record of and copy of all
communications since January 1, 2005, between the agency and corporations,
lobbyists, groups, and individuals concerning the pasture controversy.

³We want to know if the powerful corporations that are representing the
factory-farm milk as organic are improperly influencing USDA policy behind
closed doors,² said Kastel. Our farmer-members need a full explanation as to
why this agency continues to put their futures at risk while ignoring the
overwhelming sentiment of the organic community that wants America¹s strong
organic standards enforced.²

­ 30 ­

EDITORS NOTE: During April and May 2005, The Cornucopia Institute surveyed
certified organic dairy farm operators across the country about the proposed
pasture requirement for dairy cows. An overwhelming 93% of the survey¹s
respondents endorsed taking strong action at the National Organics Standards
Board on August 16. In addition, thousands of petition signatures and
letters were received by the USDA from consumers throughout the country
supporting strict pasture enforcement, the same position advocated by family
dairy farmers. If you are interested in a copy of the survey results,
please contact us.

Mark A. Kastel
The Cornucopia Institute
kastel at
608-625-2042 Voice
608-625-2043 Fax

P.O. Box 126
Cornucopia, Wisconsin 54827