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USDA Releases New Organic “Pasture Rule,” Comments Accepted Until December 23

(Beyond Pesticides, October 28, 2008) After eight years of intense scrutiny and criticism, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published on October 23, 2008 a proposed change in the Federal Register to the federal organic regulations intended to address abuses by “factory farms,” which milk thousands of cows in an environment that many would not expect organic milk to be produced.

“We are pleased that the USDA has finally addressed the concerns of the organic dairy community, ” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the non-profit Cornucopia Institute, “but it appears that the department has once again monkey wrenched this process by incorporating a number of red herrings – major policy proposals that have never been reviewed by the industry or the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).”

The USDA’s proposed rule clarifies requirements for organic livestock producers, principally dairy farmers, requiring their animals to graze on pasture and consume a significant percentage of their feed intake during the growing season. The new proposed regulations are intended to make the current rules more understandable for all dairy producers and organic certification agents.

“While I appreciate the fact that the USDA has issued proposed rules to clarify pasture requirements, based on NOSB recommendations, I am very concerned about the proposed language on dairy replacement animals,” said Jim Riddle, a past chair and member of the National Organic Standards Board and member of Beyond Pesticides board of directors. “The proposed change, contrary to language recommended by the NOSB, would institutionalize the current two-track system, which allows certain operations to continually bring in conventional heifers, while other operations are required to use only replacement heifers that have been raised organically from the last third of gestation. There should be one standard for all organic dairy farms, once they have converted to organic production. ”

In addition to addressing the pasture and dairy animal replacement issue the USDA rule proposes expanding the definition of livestock to include bees and aquatic animals.

“We ask that the USDA separate the organic dairy rulemaking, agreed-upon by the majority of the industry, from the other new provisions they have put forward and immediately adopt it into law,” Mr. Kastel said. “Although many of the USDA’s new proposals are meritorious, by packaging these new initiatives together with the long debated dairy provisions it may guarantee years of additional delays to the widespread calls to ramp-up enforcement on the bad actors.”

The Cornucopia Institute stated, “We highly recommend that farmers and consumers carefully scrutinize the proposed rules and ask the USDA to incorporate the well-vetted proposals that crackdown on corporate dairy while tabling other provisions until they have adequate public scrutiny.”

Highlights of the proposed rule include:

–A definition of “growing season,” and the requirement that all animals over the age of six months must be on pasture throughout the growing season.
–Animals must receive 30 percent of their dry matter intake (DMI) from pasture.
–A definition of “temporary confinement,” and clarification of periods of temporary confinement.
–A pasture practice standard that addresses the management of pasture as a crop.

Beyond Pesticides supports organic agriculture as effecting good land stewardship and a reduction in hazardous chemical exposures for workers on the farm. The pesticide reform movement, citing pesticide problems associated with chemical agriculture, from groundwater contamination and runoff to drift, views organic as the solution to a serious public health and environmental threat. The USDA organic standards must remain strong to protect the integrity of this important solution to the pesticide problem. For more information see Beyond Pesticides Organic Food program page.

The comment period for the proposed rule closes on Dec. 23, 2008. The proposed rule will be accessible on the NOP website at www.ams.usda.gov/nop under “Today’s News.” Comments will be accepted by mail and through the Internet at www.regulations.gov.


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