New USDA regulations for organic milk have just been adopted earlier this month on February 12, 2010. Family farmers, animal rights activists and organic food consumers are rejoicing in victory.
These new regulations require that all organic dairy cows must now be out on pasture for the entire growing season, but not less than 120 days. Furthermore, they must have year-round outdoor access, save a temporary and documentable situation that poses environmental or health considerations. Additionally, animals must receive at least 30% of their feed, or dry matter intake (DMI), from pasturing.
“These minimum benchmarks will assure consumers that industrial-scale dairies don’t just create the ‘illusion’ of grazing and continue producing illegitimate organic milk,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based farming policy organization Cornucopia Institute. “The organic community has been calling for strong regulations and its enforcement for much of the past decade. Cheap organic milk flowing from the illegitimate factory farms has created a surplus that is crushing ethical family farm producers.”
The Cornucopia Institute reports that 30-40% of the America’s organic milk supply is produced by giant CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) whose practices are often only slightly better than standard non-organic factory dairies. In fact, scandals such as the one involving Aurora Dairy, a $100+ million company (who produces private-label, store brand milk for Wal-Mart, Costco and large grocery chains) stirred up industry and consumer concern when a USDA investigators found that 14 organic regulations were “willfully” and systemically violated.
Research produced by Cornucopia found that overall the dairy industry was in relatively good shape with 90% of all name brand dairy products produced with high-integrity and in accordance to ethical standards.However, the few bad apples that remained were guilty of significant violations of organic industry standard practices and they bad needed to be reigned in.
The new organic livestock standards are set to go in effct June 16, 2010, 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.
“I am confident that the new rule, along with a commitment to rigorous enforcement by certifiers, will put an end to these abuses and restore fairness to the organic dairy sector,” said Kevin Engelbert, a dairy farmer from Nichols, NY who milks 100 cows. “Consumers will be able to purchase organic dairy products with confidence, knowing that regardless of the label, the animals who produced the milk were on pasture, as nature intended,” Engelbert added.