by Marion Nestle
Feb 14 2010

USDA closes organic dairy loophole

USDA’s 2002 organic rules said that dairy herds must have access to pasture.  They did not say the animals had to actually be fed on pasture.   This loophole is now supposed to be fixed.  USDA has just issued new rules.

Starting in June, organic dairy herds must be sent to pasture for the entire grazing season of at least 120 days and must get at least 30% of their food from pasture during that season.  Smaller organic dairy farmers are already doing this.  Now the big ones will have to come into line. And about time too.

Here’s how the New York Times explains this action.

Before this final rule, the Cornucopia Institute had a number of concerns (in 2008). The proposed rules were bundled together with provisions that had not been properly reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).  These problems have now been solved.

Mark Kastel of the Cornocopia Institute writes:

In its final version we are virtually 100% satisfied (still doing some technical review).  Even more importantly we are highly impressed by the professional approach taken by Kathleen Merrigan and the staff at the organic program as to how they plan to implement this.

He sends the Institute’s most recent press release celebrating the new rules.

Score this one as a win for organic advocates!

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  • I would love if organic milk = grass fed, but it seems like this rule would be 30% of 120 days – or something like 10% grass fed.

  • even if the Cornocopia Institute is “virtually 100% satisfied” its going to take a very long time, as you can see from Jenna’s comment, to gain the consumers confidence in the word “organic”. the best option still remains: develop a relationship with your local farmers.

  • Anthro

    I get my milk at the local co-op which carries a brand from a local family-owned dairy. They do organic and “regular” and the only difference is that the cows graze on separate pastures (except in winter–this is Wisconsin). I have been there and they use very little chemicals on the “regular” pasture and that milk is less than half the price of the organic, so that is what I buy.

    I am, however, happy to see this new rule as I have long questioned the sanity of calling something “organic” that deprives animals of their natural habits. I would like to see something similar in the case of the “cage free” rule–which is pretty meaningless in terms of animal welfare.

  • Emily

    That’s an excellent start! Although I, too, get my milk from a local market where I can talk to the actual farmers. I think it will definitely take some time and trust-building, but I’m delighted that this indicates that our organic standards will continue to be meaningful.

    Ditto Anthro’s comments on eggs and chickens, too. Again, I buy from the farmers’ market, but I do think it’s horrifying that many consumers who feel they are doing the right thing in getiing “cage-free” chickens and eggs are essentially paying more just to pay more. I can’t speak to nutrition, but I can say definitively that eggs from a pastured chicken are so much tastier than grocery store eggs!

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