USDA proposes new rules for dairies' organic milk production
The USDA has issued draft rules for organic milk that would require that the cows be on pasture at least half the year and get plenty of fresh grass.
The proposals are meant to close a loophole that has allowed some huge feedlots to sell their milk as organic, even though their cows rarely grazed on fresh grass.
Advocates for family dairy farms and organic consumers say that is not what shoppers think they are buying when they pay a premium for organic milk.
Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association said that pretty much the entire organic community welcomes the long-overdue closing of loopholes for pasture and feed in the organic dairy regulations.
The issue started to boil few years ago when a handful of large dairy farms with thousands of cows, mostly in arid Western states, fed their cows organic grain but keeping them largely confined to feedlots while selling the milk as organic.
The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute helped lead the charge, mainly against two companies: Aurora Organic Dairy, which produces private-label organic milk for national and local retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Costco Wholesale Co. and Safeway Inc., Horizon Organic and Dean Foods Co.
Organic dairy products are worth a $2.7 billion industry, about 4 percent of all dairy products sold in 2006, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic dairy is growing faster than the organic sector as a whole, and is an important entry point for consumers who are new to organics, said Holly Givens, a spokeswoman for the association.
In the notice published in the Federal Register late last month, the Agriculture Department said consumers and others had made clear their feelings that organic cows should get their nutrition from grazing. In an earlier public comment round, only 28 of more than 80,500 comments were against tightening the rules.
Organic advocates are happy that the draft rules would require that organic cows be on pasture at least 120 days out of the year, and that the animals get at least 30 percent of their dry matter intake from grazing during the growing season.