Close the Loophole Allowing Conventional Cows on Organic Farms

June 21st, 2015

The comment period is closed.

[UPDATED] Comment by July 27

Origin of Livestock – Proposed Rule

One of Aurora’s “organic” dairies, each managing many thousands of cows (producing private label milk for Walmart, Costco, Target and others)

In April 2010, the USDA National Organic Program’s new director, Miles McEvoy, promised that releasing a tightened set of rules on the organic origin of livestock would be a “top priority.” Now, over five years later, a draft rule has finally been released — and it’s likely to be at least two more years until this goes into effect. That’s seven years since Mr. McEvoy declared its prominence, which was also the rhetoric from the USDA in the last years of the Bush administration.

The USDA’s stated intent is to tighten the rules that govern how conventionally raised livestock can be brought into organic production systems, but major loopholes remain. These loopholes could allow significant abuses to continue to the detriment of organic family farmers, who follow the spirit and letter of the law, and their loyal organic customers seeking authentic organic food.

Conventional dairy farmers converting to organic farming are allowed a one-time transition of their existing herd to organic production.  After that point all animals brought into a herd are supposed to be raised organically from the last third of gestation (meaning prior to birth).  However, some industrial scale organic dairies (“factory farms”) have been flouting this rule for years by continuously purchasing conventional replacement heifers (young cows) that have been transitioned to organic.

Factory farms, milking thousands of cows each, have been regularly bringing in conventional cattle to both start or grow their operations and replace animals burned out by the operations’ high production management approach.  Instead of raising the baby animals on organic milk, these operations raise the calves on medicated milk replacer that includes antibiotics, and, after weaning, feed them GMO grains and hay treated with toxic pesticides.  The intent of the proposed new rule is to prevent this practice.

Holy Cow!

The problem with the proposed rule is that USDA bureaucrats define a “dairy farm” as any farm milking at least one cow!  The farm does not even have to be a commercially licensed dairy.  Theoretically, a farm with just one milked cow would then be allowed to raise thousands of conventionally fed heifers, transition them to organic, then sell the transitioned animals to “organic” factory dairies.  This loophole would allow the same flagrant abuses to keep occurring.

Cornucopia makes the following suggested changes to the rule pertaining to dairy conversion:

  • Require the farm to be a commercial dairy, that is inspected and permitted by the state, and that has a relationship with a licensed milk handler shipping to a licensed dairy plant.  Furthermore, the operation should be fully established, shipping milk for no less than 180 days; any animal sold must be producing milk themselves (no young transitioned heifers, who have never been milked, could qualify to be sold as “organic”).
  • As put forth by the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, to prevent abuse a simpler and even more powerful solution would be to ban, outright, the sale to an organic operation of any cattle that had been transitioned from conventional production to organic production.

Regarding the rules pertaining to transitioning breeding stock in hogs and other slaughter species:

We see the need for very limited provisions to bring conventional animals in to diversify genetics. However, the draft proposal could allow operations producing both conventional and organic livestock to shuffle animals back and forth between organic and conventional management.  This is completely unacceptable.

Cornucopia makes the following suggested change to the draft rule:

  • Close the loophole for breeding stock by creating additional safeguards that could prevent rotating animals in and out of organic production and only allow periodic and limited additions for genetic diversity (prohibiting the practice of converting first litter sows to organic production on a continual basis).

You can comment directly using the link below and mention that you agree with The Cornucopia Institute’s suggested changes to the proposed origin of livestock rule: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/28/2015-09851/national-organic-program-origin-of-livestock

The public comment period is open until July 27th

A short sample letter appears below.  Please customize this to fit your voice.  You can cut and paste the final version into the USDA website (noted above):

RE: Comment on Proposed Rule on Origin of Livestock (Docket Number AMS-NOP-11-0009; NOP-11-04PR)

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide public input on the National Organic Program’s Proposed Rule on the Origin of Livestock. I fully support the effort to close the loopholes that have allowed the continued practice of bringing conventional livestock on to organic farms. This loophole has been abused and has allowed factory farm livestock operations to manage their herds using practices that are not sustainable and do not promote the health of their livestock.

However, the proposed new rule appears to create a new loophole that I want to see closed to prevent the ongoing abuse of the intent and spirit of organic law.

Specifically, I support the following changes:

  • The rule must require that any organic dairy farm selling organic animals be a functioning “commercial dairy” that is inspected and permitted by the state in which it operates. Furthermore, this dairy farm must have a relationship with a licensed milk handler shipping to a licensed dairy plant. In addition, this operation should be fully established, shipping milk for no less than 180 days and any animal sold should be producing milk itself. This means that no young transitioned heifers, who have never been milked, could qualify for sale as “organic.”
  • Should the National Organic Program seek a definitive solution to the potential loophole noted above, they could choose to ban, outright, the sale to an organic operation of any cattle that had been transitioned from conventional production to organic production.
  • The final rule should close the loophole for breeding stock by creating additional safeguards that would prevent rotating animals in and out of organic production and only allow periodic and limited editions for genetic diversity (prohibiting the practice of converting first litter sows to organic production on a continual basis).

Thank you for considering my comments on this important matter.

Sincerely,

Again, please act by Monday, July 27 to submit your electronic comments to https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/28/2015-09851/national-organic-program-origin-of-livestock

Should you wish to submit comments by mail, send them to:

Scott Updike, Agricultural Marketing Specialist
National Organic Program
USDA-AMS-NOP, Room 2646—So., Ag Stop 0268
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20250-0268

Make sure your comments reference Docket Number AMS-NOP-11-0009; NOP-11-04PR.

Thank you for helping protect the integrity of organic agriculture and food.

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