Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Organic Advocates Applaud New USDA Regulations For Dairy Farms

Previous USDA regulations contained language that made it possible for mega-dairy farms to abuse the organic system. Not anymore!

a group of grazing dairy cows.

Photo: Susie Blackmon

The new USDA organic regulations will enforce pasture grazing periods for dairy cows.

After years of dispute between small organic farms and large corporate farms over whether the latter group deserves the designation of “organic”, the little guys have triumphed.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released new regulations for organic dairy farms with altered language to avoid the loopholes that mega-dairy farms previously exploited (most notoriously exemplified in the Dean/Horizon and Aurora farms controversy in 2008).

The USDA’s press release announcing the new regulations maintains that a majority of organic farms were, in fact, playing fair. However, there are a few large dairy farms that do not.

The previous USDA regulations contained language that made it possible for mega-farms to abuse the organic system. Not anymore!

The New Rules Of The Organic Dairy Game

The two most significant changes in the rules concern the amount of grazing time allotted to livestock. The new regulations stipulate that:

  • Dairy cows must be allowed to graze on pasture for the entirety of their local grazing period. The grazing period for most regions is 120 days, other regions have longer grazing periods. Local agriculture officials will enforce the appropriate grazing period for the farm.
  • At least 30% of the feed must be obtained from grazing.

While the rules also apply to cattle raised for slaughter, there is slight flexibility in the percentage of feeding that must be obtained from pasture feeding. This exception involves what is known as the “finishing period” in which the cattle are fed grains in order to fatten the cows for slaughter.

In light of the aforementioned “finishing period” discrepancy in the new regulations, the USDA has introduced a 60 day comment period for farmers and consumers.

These new regulations are designed to boost confidence among consumers who think they’re buying “organic” dairy products and to narrow the gulf between how small dairy farms and mega-dairy farms are practicing organic farming.

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Laura Bult

Laura Bult is a spring intern with Earth Eats and a senior at Indiana University majoring in International Studies, with minors in English Literature and Spanish.

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