The new certified organic pasture rule was passed and published last week, and it goes into effect in early June.
Here is what it means to you (and to all of us):
Ever since the USDA got themselves involved in organic agriculture and passed the NOP (National Organic Program) standards in 1999, all organic farming operations have been operating under the same 600 page document that ensures consumers that organic farming methods are being followed.
Many organic farmers, agvocates, and others directly involved in organic food were involved in the drafting of these regulations. It was, quite frankly, a remarkable document from a governmental agency and has done well to continue to promote and encourage the use of organic methods in all phases of the agricultural industry.
There was, however, one gaping loop hole of confusion over the amount of time animals needed to be on pasture. This was not specifically for dairy and meat animals, but also provided obscurity for poultry, pork, and all other organic animals. The NOP was vaguely unclear.
During the previous decade as the organic food industry began to thrive, many corporate mega-farms out West decided to take the plunge and begin marketing their products as “organic”. They switched to organic grain and began to call their milk and other dairy products organic.
None of these animals were afforded the opportunity to graze on pasture. They were (and still are) simply in large stall feed lot operations. Some refer to them as CAFO’s (Confined Area Feeding Operations).
Many of these large scale CAFO’s are providing the organic milk for private label brands in large grocery store chains throughout the US. They include Safeway, Target, WalMart, Costco, and others. You can learn more about the specific brands here:
So basically retailers and agri-business have been fooling consumers into believing that supporting their private label milk might actually be a good thing.
Nothing could be further than the truth.
This milk is trucked across country, produced very cheaply, and forces down wholesale pricing on organic milk that is legitimate. In addition, it steals organic milk sales from locally based organic milk labels struggling to match this artificially low pricing. It is evident that, however wrongly, retail grocers are taking advantage of their customer loyalty to make them believe these choices are smart and based on sound and thorough research by retailers themselves. The bottom line is that it has been a full blown fraud for a very, very long time. And they know it.
Some of this was predicated on the fact that retailers wanted to offer you, their loyal consumer/customers, with a cheap organic option. In some cases it was simply greed, as these large operations would pay retailers large “slotting fees” and other financial enticements to receive contracts for this work. As the economy worsened, even the most respected grocery chains in the country awarded private label milk contracts to these CAFO’s, knowing full well what they were.
This will all change in mid-June when the new pasture rule goes into effect and the loop holes is closed. Permanently.
Starting then, cows must be allowed to graze on pasture 120 days per year, and 30% of their diet must include hay and other forages. This is a HUGE move forward on behalf of the government to ensure that the playing field is leveled and family farms can have a seat at the table.
Here’s why: Pasturing 10,000-15,000 cows for 120 days of the year would require some acreage. Lots and lots of acreage. And cows would have to be spread out so far away from their milking parlors that it would be impossible to round them all up for three times a day milking chores. Instituting the pasture rule will now make agri-businesses like Aurora Dairy review their “organic operations”.
Cheers to the Obama administration for finally putting some “teeth” into the organic program. In addition, they have funded a significant amount of money for the NOP to actually enforce these rules. My sense is the inspectors first visits in June will be west of the Mississippi.
This pasture rule also directly impacts meat cows, poultry, pork, turkey, and other organic operations. This truly is the best news organic family farms have had in 10+ years. Now consumers can continue to purchase quality organic food and feel certain the USDA Certified Organic label actually means something.
Please, do everyone a favor…..if you are buying private label “organic” milk from your retailer, ask about its origin. If it’s from out West and you live in the East, stop buying it and switch to a local brand that actually supports local family farms in your area. If you live in New York, Nymilk and Nycheese are brand names to look for.
If you have questions, please contact me: email@example.com or feel free to leave a comment.