New USDA Organic Rules: Too Little, Too Late?

Articles
February 26, 2010

New USDA Organic Rules: Too Little, Too Late?

The problem with the new tougher USDA rules that define organic meat and milk is that they took so long to come about. While critics and advocates fought over grazing requirements for years, organic food sales lost their steam.

The problem with the new tougher USDA rules that define organic meat and milk is that they took so long to come about. While critics and advocates fought over grazing requirements for years, organic food sales lost their steam.

Some of the lost sales are attributable to the higher prices these foods command – and the recession that forced consumers to follow their budgets more than their principles. There is also the matter of consumer confusion, apathy and doubt that set in among organic industry controversies and made people wonder what they were actually paying for.

Practices at major dairies and factory farms that allegedly helped them capture majority market shares for milk and hurt family farm producers were challenged. According to the Organic Consumers Association, “at least five times during the past decade, the National Organics Standards Board (a USDA advisory panel) passed guidance or recommended regulatory changes clarifying the requirement that dairy cows and other ruminants must be allowed to exhibit their native behavior and consume a meaningful amount of their feed from grazing on pastures.”

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General is now investigating delaying tactics that occurred in those years, said the OCA. 

The new USDA rules mandate that, in order for meat or dairy to bear the USDA seal as an ‘organic’ or ‘100% organic’ product, livestock must be grazed on pasture at least four months per year, and the animals must obtain at least 30% of their feed or dry matter intake from grazing, reported The Associated Press and The Washington Post. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan told the news organizations she anticipates more rules in the coming months.

“We are delighted by the new rules. Cheap organic milk flowing from the illegitimate factory farms has created a surplus that is crushing ethical family farm producers,” Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, told OCA.

The rigor with which certifiers enforce these new USDA rules will determine their effectiveness. And any new rules that come could further brighten prospects for family farmers. The Lempert Report hopes it isn’t too late.