(ALERT OVER) – Organic Stakeholders Demand Democracy from the USDA

November 29th, 2008

Take Action: New Rules Could Force Organic Family Livestock Farmers Out of Business

After eight years of political debate, legal wrangling and protests within the organic community the USDA on October 23 finally published a draft rule intended to clamp down on giant factory farms milking thousands of cows that have been abusing the spirit and letter of federal organic law by primarily confining their cattle to feedlots.

The USDA could have made minor regulatory language changes to the current rule that would have clarified and forced the grazing of cattle. Instead, the USDA completely rewrote the complicated organic livestock standards without input from the organic community or the National Organic Standards Board. And they have given the organic community – farmers, consumers, retailers and processors – just 60 days to digest the sweeping changes and submit comments to government regulators.

Unfortunately, it has taken the groups that represent organic farmers over 30 days just to understand the true meaning of the complex USDA draft rule and to develop the many needed and major revisions. While the draft rule that the USDA presented would effectively clamp down on factory farm scofflaws, it would also probably put out of business the majority of all family-scale livestock farmers in the United States. This is unacceptable.

The groups Cornucopia has collaborated with will seek additional input and distribute a number of suggested changes to the entire organic community shortly. But with the election, the end of fall harvest, Thanksgiving, and the build-up to Christmas, all falling within the 60-day time window for public comment, we believe we simply need more time to share these changes with all organic stakeholders.

A high percentage of organic farmers in the country, maybe 30% (including Amish families), do not typically use e-mail. It is imperative that all stakeholders have a chance to have a voice.

Please send a message to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer (agsec@usda.gov) asking him to extend the public comment period by 30 days!

Your message does not have to be long or complicated. Merely saying that in order to protect the rights of all organic stakeholders we respectfully request a 30 day extension to the public comment period relating to organic livestock. In your message, be sure to note the docket number for this proposal: Docket No. AMS-TM-06-0198; TM-05-14.

The Cornucopia Institute will soon supply all of our members and others in the community with a full analysis and recommendations that will help stakeholders submit informed and focused comments in support of family farmers and organic integrity. We hope to send this out by early December, but the crush of holiday mail will slow the receipt of this critical information for many. The current deadline for comments is December 23. The recommended 30-day extension would move that date to January 23.

In the meantime, the following documents are available on our website at the USDA Pasture/Livestock Rulemaking link. On this page you will find:

    1. A sample letter asking the USDA to extend of the public comment period from 60 to 90 days.
    2. The official USDA announcement of rulemaking including analysis as printed in the Federal Register.
    3. The proposed USDA draft pasture/livestock rule.
    4. A preliminary draft of the recommended livestock rule language from a consortium of public interest groups representing organic farmers and consumers, including The Cornucopia Institute and FOOD Farmers (available within the next day).

In addition, there are four public listening sessions being sponsored by the USDA to gather input on the proposed new rule. They are scheduled for:

  • Tuesday, December 2
    1:30-4:30 p.m.
    Organic Valley Family of Farms Headquarters
    One Organic Way
    LaFarge, WI 54639
  • Thursday, December 4
    1:30-4:30 p.m.
    California State University – Chico
    University Farm Pavillion
    311 Nicholas C. Schouten Lane
    Chico, CA 95928
  • Monday, December 8
    1:30-4:30 p.m.
    Extension Research Facility, 6500 Amarillo Boulevard West
    Amarillo, TX
  • Thursday Dec. 11
    9:30AM – 12:30 PM
    The Family Center of Gap
    835 Houston Run Drive, Suite 200
    Gap PA 17527

And the state of Montana is also holding a listening session. That will be held:

  • Friday, December 5
    6:30 PM.
    Holiday Inn
    5 E Baxter Ln
    Bozeman, MT 59715

Please stay tuned for more information from us. It is incredibly important that we get this rule right as the future of so many ethical organic livestock producers, and access to legitimately produced organic food products, are at stake.

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