WASHINGTON — If you want to follow national guidelines for selling organic milk, your dairy animals must graze pasture during the grazing season — and that must be at least 120 days per year.
The USDA announced details Feb. 12 of the final regulation regarding access to pasture for organic livestock operations.
This rule amends the National Organic Program regulations to clarify the use of pasture in raising organic ruminants.
Organic = pasture
The final rule provides certainty to consumers that organic livestock production is a pasture-based system in which animals are actively grazing pasture during the grazing season.
The majority of organic dairy and ruminant livestock producers are already grazing animals and maintaining pastures that meet the requirements of this rule. These standards contain clear requirements that will provide greater assurance that all producers are being held to the same standards, according to the USDA.
“The organic farmers that we represent are celebrating this rule because it will help to protect the integrity of the organic label,” said Lexie Stoia Pierce, certification program manager for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
” For the public, this rule helps ensure that consumers get what they pay for.”
Pondering finishing practices
USDA received a substantial number of comments on provisions of the rule affecting finish feeding practices of slaughter livestock, and has extended the comment period for this provision for 60 days.
Finish feeding is commonly used by organic farmers and ranchers to improve the grade of beef and involves feeding livestock grain.
“It is difficult to decouple standards for milking cows from standards for finish feeding,” said Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “Since finish feeding gets swept up into this dairy rulemaking, we are taking an extra step and inviting public comment on the finish feeding requirements.”
Five years in works
This final rule is the culmination of a process that was initiated in 2005 when the National Organic Standards Board recommended that ruminants obtain a minimum 30 percent dry matter intake for at least 120 days.
The main components of the rule include:
— Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year;
— Animals must obtain a minimum of 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing pasture during the grazing season;
— Producers must have a pasture management plan and manage pasture as a crop to meet the feed requirements for the grazing animals and to protect soil and water quality; and,
— Livestock are exempt from the 30 percent dry matter intake requirements during the finish feeding period, not to exceed 120 days. Livestock must have access to pasture during the finishing phase.
The final rule becomes effective 120 days after publication, June 17, 2010.
Operations which are already certified organic will have one year to implement the provisions.
Copies of the final rule and additional information are on display on line at http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOP.
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