If Federal Agency Fails to Fix Pasture Standards
- Urvashi Rangan [CU]; Charles Margulis [CFS]
Washington DC–As the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) gets ready to hold a hearing on the issue, national surveys from The Center for Food Safety and Consumers Union (CU) project a significant drop in the organic milk market if consumers knew that the cows the milk came from were confined indoors and did not graze for most of their lives on pastured land. Under the existing USDA enforcement policy, producers of organic milk are not clearly required to raise their organic cows on pasture. The lack of a stringent enforcement standard has led to complaints that industrial-style confined, dairy feedlots are selling milk under the organic label.
“Because the Department of Agriculture has not clearly defined what it means for an organic dairy cow to have access to grass, some consumers are being seriously misled and buying milk that doesn’t meet their expectations. They are paying a premium price believing that the cow their milk came from spent most of its life outdoors, which is healthier and more sustainable than being confined in a crowded space. But under USDA’s current practices, consumers may not be getting what they are paying for,” says Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist & Policy Analyst for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
“The results of the debate in State College next week not only affect consumers but all organic milk producers who want their customers to have confidence in the quality of the products they are buying. The surveys show that confidence would be severely eroded,” adds Rangan.
Highlights of two nationally representative and independent surveys include:
- A survey of 1,011 of U.S. adults commissioned by the Center for Food Safety found that six out of ten women who buy organic milk and five out of ten of all organic milk purchasers would no longer do so if they knew that many organic cows were confined to fenced-in feedlots and did not graze on pasture for most of their lives.
- More than two-thirds of all consumers and 75% of women in the Consumers Union (CU) survey of 1,485 U.S. online adults said that the national organic standards should require that animals graze outdoors.
- When asked specifically in the CU survey if they would still pay a premium price for organic milk that came from cows that were confined indoors and did not graze outdoors (have access to pasture), only 14% agreed that they would (60% disagreed, while 25% remained neutral).
“These polls give a clear indication of consumer sentiment towards organic milk — they want and expect organic dairy cows to be raised on pasture before organic milk ends up on the grocery store shelf,” said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director for the Center for Food Safety.
“We want the USDA and organic dairy companies to listen to consumer demand and require organic milk to come only from cows raised for a significant period time on pasture. Consumers will reject organic milk if they believe that organic is no different from factory farm milk, and that would hurt the entire organic market,” Mendelson continued.