New USDA organic pasture rule

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Dec 12, 2008
by WLJ
New USDA organic pasture rule

Small family farms who produce organic milk have been pitted against large organic dairy processors in a fight which has seen USDA propose new rules to solve the problem. The problem, according to proponents of small organic dairy operations, is that very large dairies which market milk under an organic label have production practices that do not uphold organic standards.

A recent proposal published in the Federal Register would broadly require both dairy and beef animals raised in an organic production system to spend a large portion of their time on pasture. “We are pleased that US- DA has finally addressed the concerns of the organic dairy community,” said Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, “but it appears that the department has once again monkeywrenched this process by incorporating a number of red herrings—major policy proposals that have never been reviewed by the industry, or, as Congress mandated, by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).”

“The USDA has looked the other way when it comes to enforcement and now it appears that they may be running out the clock on this new rulemaking process,” Kastel added.

The rule also would eliminate the fattening of beef cattle on grain, in feedlots, for the last few months of their lives. Although some would find merit in this proposal, it could be ruinous for the organic beef industry.

Others, including current and former members of NOSB, agree with Kastel and members of other groups who question how much thought was put into the process of making the new rules.

“At first we were delighted that the USDA had stopped their delaying tactics and published a rule cracking down on the large factory farms that have been ‘scamming’ organic consumers and placing ethical family farmers at a competitive disadvantage,” said Bill Welch, former chairman of NOSB. “Many have spent the past weeks carefully examining this dense document and it has become painfully clear that it would not only crack down on factory farm abuses, but it’s also so restrictive that it would likely put the majority of family farmers producing organic milk and meat out of business.” — WLJ