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Coalition of Organic Groups Presses for Immediate Publication of Pasture Access and Livestock Origin Rules

Letters in Support of the National Organic Coalition's Letter to the USDA


Updated June 16, 2008
: NODPA and the National Organic Coalition joins with Federation of Organic Dairy Farmers, WhiteWave Foods (Horizon Organic), Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm, HP Hood (Stonyfield brand), Humboldt Dairy, Organic Choice, Pastureland Cooperative and Organic Dairy Farmers Cooperative to urge USDA to publish the access to pasture and origin of dairy livestock standards immediately.

History of this initiative
The lobbying work that NODPA and FOOD Farmers have been doing to get the access to pasture and origin of dairy livestock rule moving stems back to the meeting a year ago in Boulder between producers and processors. After the meeting, NODPA kept going back to all the different companies to publically work with us in DC to push the issues forward. The only company to respond with promise of active cooperation was WhiteWave Foods and so NODPA has been working with them and their lobbyist since the end of 2007. Through its membership of the National Organic Coalition (NOC), NODPA also  works with NOC”s lobbyist, Steve Etka, who has been working to set meetings up and push the access to pasture and origin of livestock, plus influence other aspects of USDA NOP work like cloning, NOP budget, certification etc. We welcomed other companies to work with us, or ask their lobbyist to work with us but they preferred to work separately or with other coalitions.

One of those meeting that was organized by WhiteWave Foods was as the Farm Bill was being debated and the Pope was visiting Washington. Kelly Shea (Horizon Organic), Steve Etka (National Organic Coalition) and Ed Maltby were able to meet with Bruce Knight (Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs),  J. Burton Eller, Jr. ,(Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs); David Shipman (Associate Administrator for AMS) and Richard Mathews (NOP) for 45 minutes to discuss the clarification of the access to pasture rule and the proposed origin of livestock and cloning rule.

We were able to provide a unique presentation to the Under Secretary of all sides of the industry (processors, farmers and non-profits) with a unified position on the two priorities for the organic community, the immediate publication of the access to pasture rule and the publication of a rule (rather than an ANPR) for the origin of livestock and cloning. The Under Secretary confirmed that the publication of the access to pasture rule and the origin of livestock were priorities for him and the department. NOP assured us that the proposed access to pasture rule will clearly define the requirements that producers have to meet and will be a strong rule that protects the integrity of the Organic Seal.

We discussed the need for the two rules to be published quickly in order to create a level playing field by having a clear definition of the minimum requirements for grazing and one easily understood rule for organic dairy replacements, rather than the many confusing criteria we have now. Bruce Knight was concerned about how farmers were being affected by the lack of clarity in the rule making and the ongoing effect on the integrity of the organic seal. We explained the very real financial hardship that farmers are suffering and the need to show the consumer that the organic seal is strong and will be defended.

We all agreed that the future of organics rests with a transparent system at the regulatory level which the NOP is now implementing with their new website and continued meetings to work together on moving issues forward that are critical to the future integrity of organic dairy. With organic under attack from many levels (price, supply and imitators) it’s time for all of us to work together to promote organics as the only third party certified product that is produced under protocols that benefit the environment and provide a product that can be traced back to the farm and provides a premium to the farmer, not just the marketer. Now is not the time to cast doubt on the integrity of organic certification and we stressed to the USDA that we need them to act now before it’s too late.

Since that meeting NODPA has joined with NOC and WhiteWave to continue to exert pressure on the USDA and has also been working within FOOD Farmers to encourage the other companies to support the FOOD Farmers position by writing letters of support. With the passage of the Farm Bill, WhiteWave initiated more meeting with the Under Secretary which was supported by the attached letter from NOC.

Below is a letter from the National Organic Coaltion sent recently to Bruce Knight, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, urging no delays in publication of the rules. The box at right provides links to supporting letters from other coalition groups and businesses.

 

National Organic Coalition
1301 Hancock Avenue, Alexandria, VA  22301
703-519-7772    email: steveetka@gmail.com

June 5, 2008

Bruce Knight
Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington D.C.  20250

Dear Bruce,

I am writing on behalf of the member organizations of the National Organic Coalition (NOC) to inquire about the status of the proposed rules regarding access to pasture for organic ruminants and origin of livestock, in light of the May 8th memo from White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolton detailing rulemaking deadlines for the end of the current Administration.   .  

NOC is concerned that the Bolton memo instructs agency heads that “[e]xcept in extraordinary circumstances, regulations to be finalized in this Administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008 and final regulations should be issued no later than November 1, 2008.” 

When we met with you and your staff in mid-April, we were very encouraged by your indication that the publication of the access to pasture rule was a priority for the Administration.   We strongly believe that the rules regarding access to pasture and origin of livestock should move forward expeditiously, and do represent “extraordinary circumstances” because of:

  • the length of time that it has taken for the access to pasture rule to be published from the initial NOSB recommendation in March 2005;
  • the critical importance of the rules to the future integrity of the USDA Organic Seal;
  • the economic impact that the lack of the rules has had on certified organic livestock operations and
  • the support of the Administration as expressed by yourself. 
  • the fact that the rulemaking process is already underway, as initiated by the ANPR. 

USDA has long asserted that the pasture standard in the current organic regulations is not enforceable. Specifically, the current standard requires that ruminant livestock have access to pasture, and further requires that livestock living conditions must “accommodate the health and natural behavior of the livestock.”  The overwhelming majority of organic dairy producers in the country have taken this standard seriously and made significant investments in their operations to meet the standard.  

There are some dairy operations which have taken advantage of the USDA’s lack of enforcement on this issue, and have established practices that do not allow access to pasture nor accommodate the natural behavior of the livestock. As a result, consumers and the media have begun to question the integrity of organic standards, particularly for organic milk. Not only does this have the potential to jeopardize the growth in sales of organic milk, but it undermines the investment of the majority of organic dairy producers who are both philosophically and economically invested in a strong pasture standard for organic livestock.    Therefore, it is critical that strong, enforceable pasture and livestock origin standards be promulgated as soon as possible.

During our April meeting with you on this subject, we demonstrated the support for the immediate publication of the proposed access to pasture rule from the whole organic community; including large and small organic livestock farms, processors and NGO’s. The access to pasture standard supported by the organic dairy industry can be summarized as:

  • Organic dairy livestock over 6 months of age must graze on pasture during the months of the year when pasture can provide edible forage.
  • The grazed feed must provide significant intake for all milking-age organic dairy cows. At a minimum, an average of 30% of the dry matter intake each year must come from grazed pasture during the region’s growing season, which will be no less than 120 days per year. 

Therefore, the member organizations of the National Organic Coalition are seeking your assurances that the Administration will proceed with the prompt publication of enforceable rules on these important matters.    Both the access to pasture and the origin of livestock issues are critical to maintaining the integrity the USDA Organic Seal.  

We thank you for your support and look forward to your response. 

Sincerely,


Steven D. Etka
Legislative Coordinator

cc   Barbara Robinson, Acting National Organic Program Director

Member organizations of the National Organic Coalition:

* Beyond Pesticides
* Center for Food Safety
* Equal Exchange
* Food & Water Watch
* Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
* Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services
* National Cooperative Grocers Association
* Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance
* Northeast Organic Farming Association -Interstate Council
* Rural Advancement Foundation International -USA
* Union of Concerned Scientists