calfImage credit: Jennifer Hays

A new rule is coming. And it’s desperately needed to ensure that healthy calves from organic cows grow up eating grass alongside their relatives.

That scenario is commonplace among Cornucopia’s five-cow-rated dairies. But in industrialized organic dairies, scofflaws have long flouted existing  “origin of livestock” rules, continuously transitioning conventional animals into production despite the fact that the organic standards intended that all organic livestock would be organic from birth (after an allowable one-time transition to organic).

The Cornucopia Institute’s investigations indicate that much of the organic milk sold under store brands  comes from industrialized organic dairies because it is mass-produced and cheap. On factory farms like these, the calves born on-site are quickly sold, and conventional heifers are purchased to replace any culls from the “organic” milking herd. This starkly contrasts authentic organic dairies that use calves raised on the farm as replacement milkers.

Because cows freshen (become of milking age) at about two years of age, and transitioning animals require only one year of organic management to become certified, operators can cut out a year’s worth of organic feed and care for each milking cow by continuously cycling conventional animals into their herds. In addition, more of the milk produced is packaged for sale: calves who would have nursed, and consumed a portion of the milk, are immediately sold and separated from their mothers.

This extractive production model has driven the price of milk down, often below the costs of authentic organic production. Many small organic dairies have been driven out of business. (Read more about the organic dairy crisis.)

A stronger Origin of Livestock Rule has been tied up in bureaucracy, major financial interests, and lack of regulatory will for over a decade. Congress has demanded the National Organic Program (NOP) finalize the rule—twice.

What can you do? When the new rule drops, Cornucopia will analyze its potential to solve the current situation in organic dairy, and we will update our supporters about next steps. Sign up to receive our emails by scrolling down and filling out the form under “Stay Engaged” at the bottom of our homepage. Cornucopia always recommends organic dairy, and we offer a scorecard to help you identify the highest-rated organic dairy available where you shop.

The Cornucopia Institute joined more than 100 organic organizations and 200 organic farmers in a letter imploring the National Organic Program to finalize the long-overdue Origin of Livestock Rule.

Read the letter here.

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