Organic Grazing War — an Economic Overview

March 10th, 2011

In the 1980s, farmers and others on the organic food chain worried about free-riders using unsustainable methods, while touting their produce as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ to gain a price premium. In response, Congress passed the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to harmonize certification and define ‘organic.’ But it was soon apparent agribusiness was deploying capital and economies-of-scale to get around OFPA.

In a 2001 New York Times article, Michael Pollan warned of an ‘organic-industrial complex’ whose cows seldom saw pasture. Grassroots farmers saw grazing as a benchmark of organic livestock, and asked USDA to establish 120 days a year and 30% dry matter intake (DMI) as minimums for organic certification. This ‘history’ details the sometimes surprising moves by individuals and organizations, as they battled for market share, sought to reassure consumers, and debated standards through 2008, before the National Organic Program (NOP) made a final rule in 2010. The author plans future articles as implications of new rules become clear.

Read the full article by Bruce A. Scholten, Durham University Geography Department at www.cornucopia.org/Scholten 2011 Confinement or Pasture.pdf.

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