USDA issues final rule on access to pasture for organic dairy

The US Department of Agriculture announced details of the final regulation regarding access to pasture for organic livestock operations.

“The final rule will give consumers confidence that organic milk or cheese comes from cows raised on pasture, and organic family farmers the assurance that there is one consistent pasture standard that applies to dairy products,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

The final rule provides certainty to consumers that organic livestock production is a pasture based system in which animals are actively grazing pasture during the grazing season. The main components of the rule include:

  • Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year;

  • Animals must obtain a minimum of 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing pasture during the grazing season;

  • Producers must have a pasture management plan and manage pasture as a crop to meet the feed requirements for the grazing animals and to protect soil and water quality; and,

  • Livestock are exempt from the 30 percent dry matter intake requirements during the finish feeding period, not to exceed 120 days. Livestock must have access to pasture during the finishing phase.

The final rule becomes effective on June 17, 2010. Operations which are already certified organic will have one year to implement the provisions. Operations which obtain organic certification after the effective date will be expected to demonstrate full compliance.

Speaking on behalf of the National Organic Coalition, Michael Sligh of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA said, “NOC members voice their approval of the final rule and the willingness of USDA to move ahead with training certifiers and inspectors to enforce the rule with all due haste.”

Organic watchdog group Cornucopia Institute also praised the rule. “The organic community has been calling for strong regulations and its enforcement for much of the past decade,” said Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. 

(The Organic & Non-GMO Report, March 2010)