Natural Foods Merchandiser

New access to pasture rules impact organics

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the final access to pasture rule for organic agriculture. The rule is the result, in part, of years of lobbying by groups like the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, which filed numerous legal complaints with the USDA’s National Organic Program, calling for investigations into alleged violations of organic livestock management practices at organic dairy farms.

“[The new rule] clearly defines access to pasture for organic ruminant livestock and sets a mechanism into place for strict regulation and enforcement,” said Christine Bushway, executive director for the Organic Trade Association. “This will enable producers and certifying agents to consistently implement National Organic Program regulations. As a result, consumers can be assured that the U.S. organic program remains the most stringent.”

The old regulations allowed farmers to confine ruminants during stages of production, which included lactation. The final pasture rule will require organic animals to be out on pasture for not less than 120 days per year and to receive at least 30 percent of their feed from pasturing during the grazing season—“all practices that most organic farmers have used for years,” the OTA noted in a release.

The new laws will go into effect 120 days after being added to the U.S. Federal Register, which should happen as soon as Tuesday. A 60-day period will allow comments from farmers who raise livestock for meat and who will also be affected by the new rules.

“Overall, I think most people will find these regulations a vast improvement,” said Dave Carter executive director for the Westminster, Colo.-based National Bison Association. “They take away some of the ambiguity and loopholes that were in the original rule and have implemented many of the recommendations by the National Organics Standards Board.”

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