The National Organic Standards Board, a citizen advisory panel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s National Organic Program, voted in a Washington, D.C., meeting to recommend changes in the federal organic rule regarding livestock grazing. The changes would clarify requirements for dairy operations, aligning them with the intent of the organic rule that animal living conditions reflect natural behavior patterns, and with some consumers? expectations of natural grazing settings and limited confinement of animals.
If USDA accepts the NOSB recommendations, the lengthy process of changing the rule will begin, including publication of the proposed language in the Federal Register and a public comment period.
Specifically, NOSB recommended that section 205.329(a)(2) of the organic rule (available in full at www.ams.usda.gov/nop) describing livestock living conditions be changed from ?access to pasture for ruminants? to the following language:
?Ruminant animals grazing pasture during the growing season. This includes all stages of life except a) birthing, b) dairy animals up to six months of age, c) sick animals, and d) beef animals during the final finishing stage, not to exceed 120 days. Note: Lactation of dairy animals is not a stage of life under which animals may be denied pasture for grazing.?
NOSB also voted to recommend that section 205.239(b)(2) of the rule be changed from ?the animal?s stage of production? as a reason for temporary confinement of an animal to ?the animal?s stage of life.?
In addition, the NOSB voted to post, for public and industry comment, a draft of a detailed guidance document on livestock grazing. While not regulatory or enforceable, the guidance will provide direction for certifiers evaluating farm practices. According to Jim Riddle, chair of the NOSB and organic policy specialist for The Rodale Institute?s newfarm.org Web magazine, the draft will cover organic system plans; temporary confinement, further clarifying what is meant by ?temporary?; and appropriate pasture conditions, referencing regional standards for prescribed grazing created by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
The draft guidance document sets a goal for farmers to provide grazed feed of greater than 30 percent of dry matter intake on a daily basis during the growing season, for not less than 120 days a year. NOSB will review comments on this draft for a vote at its next meeting later this year, Riddle said.
The Washington meeting included comments from dairy farmers and representatives of large organic dairy operations. The panel received more than 8,000 comments on its draft of pasture requirement recommendations before the meeting, and more farmers attended this meeting than any previous one.
Organic dairy farmer Ed Zimba traveled from Deford, Mich., to support pasturing. ?It?s all for the good of the consumer and the health of the animals,? Zimba said. ?We [dairy farmers in favor of more stringent pasture requirements] didn?t get everything we wanted—we wanted a maximum of three cows per acre—but it?s enough now for the NOP to grab a hold of and enforce something.?
?As a certifier, the guidance certainly is helpful,? said Cissy Bowman, organizational director of the Indiana Certified Organic certifying agency. ?The majority of our growers are past the 120 days and 30 percent, and a number of our dairy farmers? [cows] are almost totally grass-fed anyway. But it will assist us with new farms.?
Aurora Organic Dairy, based in Boulder, Colo., one of the nation?s largest organic dairy operations, made both written and verbal comments to the NOSB, but offered no comment on the guidance document. ?We, like many others, are eager to have it in writing and be able to look at it,? said Clark Driftmier, Aurora?s senior vice president of marketing.
Driftmier said he believes the intense discussions about pasturing are based in philosophical differences over the scale of organic operations. ?My verbal testimony said [Aurora] believes in the growth of organics, and that the mainstreaming of organics is a good thing,? he said.
?This is not an attack on any particular operation; we?re just trying to clarify the requirements for all,? Riddle said. ?It?s important to keep in mind that dairy operations that are currently certified will remain certified, but this does send the signal that the rules are tightening up, that the requirement for pasture is real.?
Elaine Lipson ([email protected]) is the author of The Organic Foods Sourcebook (McGraw-Hill Contemporary, 2001) and The U.S. Market for Organic Foods and Beverages 2004 (Packaged Facts).
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