The United States Department of Agriculture has issued a call for comments on how the agency should address dairy animals' and other ruminants' need for pasture and grazing under the National Organic Program regulations.
In its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, USDA acknowledged that the current regulations, which stipulate that animals must have "access to pasture," have been vague and controversial. The exceptions to the rule—that animals may be kept indoors during inclement weather, or to protect the health or safety of the animals, or to protect soil or water quality—have also been divisive. USDA has issued guidance documents to help interpret the legislation but those are not legally binding.
The USDA is seeking input from producers, handlers, processors, food manufacturers, exporters, consumers, scientists and industry representatives on numerous aspects of this provision. Specifically, the agency hopes to answer questions about animal nutrition, the scientific basis for minimum pasture requirements, consumer preferences (e.g., do they prefer organic milk from cows raised on pasture?), business implications, enforcement and more.
The National Organic Standards Board will also address this issue this week at its annual meeting in State College, Pa.