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Organic Trade Association urges USDA to clarify Origin of Livestock rule—now

Organic sector and Capitol Hill show strong support for rule in final comments.

The Organic Trade Association on Monday urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “move expeditiously” to implement a final rule to clarify the Origin of Livestock rule, saying that “clarification [of the rule] is long overdue and is critical to leveling the playing field among organic dairy producers.”

“The Organic Trade Association continues to support the Origin of Livestock proposed rule, and urges USDA to move expeditiously to a final rule to clarify and narrow the allowance to transition dairy animals into organic milk production as a one-time event,” the trade group stated in its official comments in the public comment period ending on Dec. 2. 

The proposed Origin of Livestock Rule specifies that organic dairy animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation or be raised organically for one year if transitioning a conventional herd to organic, and further clarifies that this transition is allowed only once. It specifies that once a distinct herd is transitioned to organic, all animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation, or sourced from another dairy farm that has completed its one-time transition. The rule effectively prohibits continuous transitions and cycling of dairy animals in and out of organic production.

The association said it was submitting additional comments to those it submitted in 2015 to “reflect new information regarding the continued need for consistent enforcement of organic dairy standards. Conditions that prompted rulemaking on origin of livestock have not changed. New information since 2015 only reaffirms the need for rulemaking to clarify and strengthen regulations on origin of livestock.”

The National Organic Program reopened the public comment period on Oct. 1, 2019, for the Origin of Livestock proposed rule originally published in 2015.

Over  600 new comments were submitted during the latest comment period, nearly all in support of the rule. The latest comments from organic stakeholders reinforced the more than 1,500 comments already submitted during the 2015 comment period favoring implementation of the final rule.

“The organic industry has been asking for this critical clarification since 2010. There should be no doubt that the industry has reached consensus on this policy,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association.

In a clear demonstration of the unified position of the organic sector, the Organic Trade Association’s Dairy Council also submitted a letter in support of the rule.  Dairy Council membership represents over 90% of the U.S. organic dairy market, and includes a diverse cross section of farmers and companies. The Council stated that “A final rule on Origin of Livestock is needed now more than ever … With the downward pressure on dairy prices and slowdown in organic dairy consumption and sales, the importance of fair enforcement of regulatory standards is paramount.”

In addition, Congress has shown strong bi-partisan support for the rule, and a letter from the five co-chairs of the House Organic Caucus (Rep. Rodney Davis, Rep. Peter DeFazio, Rep. Ron Kind, Rep. Dan Newhouse, and Rep. Chellie Pingree) to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue was submitted in the public comments. The lawmakers said the issue is “critical for thousands of organic dairy farmers around the country,” and strongly urged USDA to implement the final rule immediately, saying that “U.S. dairy farmers have experienced extreme hardship over the last few years as milk prices have plummeted due to a variety of market factors…The lack of enforcement on the origin of livestock standards is one of many factors that is disrupting the marketplace for organic dairy farmers.”

The members of Congress cited data from the Organic Trade Association that shows that organic dairy farmers who raise their calves according to the organic standard from birth spend an average of $600 to 1,000 more per calf than farmers who raise calves conventionally and transition them to organic at one year of age.

“This cost differential is one of the many reasons why transition was meant to be limited as a one-time event,” stated the lawmakers.

By the close of the comment period, wide support had been voiced from stakeholders for the rule including organic dairy farmers, processors and retailers, advocacy groups, and consumers.

Source: The Organic Trade Association

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