WASHINGTON, DC: Organic dairy farmers from throughout the country descended on the nation’s capital last week in a show of solidarity requesting a USDA crackdown on large industrial dairy farms producing “organic” milk. The farmers present, along with over 8000 submitted comments from consumers and other organic producers, prompted the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to pass recommendations for changes in the organic regulations and a guidance draft to help organic certifiers enforce the law. Critics contend that these large farms are ignoring the requirement that organic cows graze on grass as a major component of their diet (please see previous releases below).

New York dairyman George Wright testified that some dairy marketers are misleading consumers by using photographs of bucolic scenery and cows out on pasture to market their dairy foods. “You never see [confined] cattle in their ads bellied up to a feed bunk getting their lunch.” Dairy farmers from California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and throughout New England passionately made their case before the USDA panel.

“Grass is the be-all and end-all of the cow,” said Jack Lazor, a Vermont dairy farmer and producer of Butterworks organic yogurt. “Cows have the ability to pollute the Earth or heal the Earth. If your animals are in a feed lot . . . it’s not a healthy situation, and you’re not making the earth a better place.”

The Wisconsin-Based Cornucopia Institute joined with the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to help organize farmer participation. Along with the Organic Consumers Association they encouraged farmers and consumers who could not make it to Washington to send in written comments—and they sure did! NOSB members and USDA staff were humbled by the unprecedented outpouring and concern in support of maintaining high organic integrity in terms of dairy production.

The rule changes and guidance draft approved by the NOSB were designed to eliminate loopholes that allowed a handful of corporate-owned farms, some with over 5000 cows, to market milk labeled as organic while confining their cows during the period of life when they are producing milk. Observers will now concentrate on making sure that these proposed changes go into effect and the USDA aggressively enforces them.

“Consumers feel good about paying premiums for organic milk because they are supporting family farms and a higher environmental and animal husbandry ethic,” stated Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. “Together the organic community, gathered in Washington, sent a clear and strong message to the investors who are building these industrial dairies: your production model is not organic and you would be prudent to heed the refrain of Maine dairy farmer, Henry Perkins who said, Let Them Eat Grass!”

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