USDA closes loopholes on origin of organic dairy cattle

After years of lobbying organic farmers, the Department of Agriculture has tightened its rules on how dairy animals – cattle, goats and sheep – enter organic production, in the name of fairness to farmers and consumers. consumers. The new “livestock origin” rule would end the practice of switching dairy animals from organic production to being fed non-organic rations at lower cost.

“Now all organic livestock producers will have the confidence and certainty that they are operating in a fair and competitive market, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Jennifer Moffitt, agriculture undersecretary for marketing, said the new rule would assure consumers that products bearing the USDA Certified Organic seal “meet their expectations of how organic products are produced.”

Under the new rule, which takes effect one year after it appeared on the federal register, milk and dairy products must come from organically managed animals from the last third of gestation, with a one-time exemption allowed for new organic farms to transition non-organic livestock over a 12 month period to organic production. Otherwise, only farms can raise or buy organic livestock. They cannot transition other animals to organic production or purchase animals that have been transitioned.

“This is a win for organic dairy farmers and anyone who cares about the integrity of the organic program,” said Ed Maltby, CEO of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. “The new rule closes loopholes that have given some operations an unfair advantage.”

Farmers have complained about inconsistent enforcement of organic farming regulations in the past. Some dairies have been allowed to incorporate non-organic animals into their operations on a regular basis rather than raising their own replacement animals. Some would also remove organic animals from a herd, raise them on conventional feeds and then bring them back to organic production, critics said. These cost-cutting measures gave these companies a competitive advantage over farmers who had committed to raising animals organically.

The USDA proposed a livestock origin rule in 2015. It was withdrawn by the Trump administration and revived last May by the Biden administration.

Moffitt announced the completion of work on the new rule during a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing. “I can’t wait to implement this,” she said. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine said the new rule “is going to make a huge difference” and Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington State said, “My organic farmers will be thrilled to hear that.”

“These livestock origin regulations level the playing field by ensuring consistency in how farms source and transition dairy cows to organic production,” said Organic Valley, a dairy cooperative owned by farmers. farmers.

The U.S. organic dairy market generated $6.6 billion in revenue in 2019, making it the second-largest organic food category after fruits and vegetables, Statista said. “The vast majority of organic dairy sales are attributed to milk, followed by yogurt and butter.” In 2020, sales of organic milk totaled 2.88 billion pounds, he said, while sales of organic and conventional milk combined were 46.2 billion pounds.

To read the text of the rule, click here.

A USDA fact sheet on the rule is available here.

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