Wed, Mar. 02, 2005
By Andrew Martin
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON – (KRT) – Henry Perkins, an organic dairy farmer from Maine, brought a sign to Washington that read “Let Them Eat Grass.” On Wednesday, after two days of debate, a federal advisory panel on the organic industry took Perkins’ message to heart.

The advisory panel recommended that the U.S. Department of Agriculture tighten existing rules that require organic livestock to be raised and fed on open pasture, rather than in confined pens.

While the recommendation applies to all organic livestock, from chickens to pigs, it would most directly affect the organic dairy business, which is dominated by small and midsize farmers who feared that the growth of industrial-sized organic dairies could turn off consumers and threaten their livelihood.

Under existing rules, organic livestock are required to have “access to pasture” except under certain circumstances, including when they are ill or in a “stage of production” such as birthing and the first six months of life. But some large-scale dairy operations had kept their milking cows in outdoor pens, saying that the “stage of production” exemption also included lactating cows….

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