New Organic Program Rule On Livestock Access To Pasture Is True To Producers And Consumers And Faithful To The Leahy Organics Law

On the eve of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s Saturday meeting with organic producers in Vermont, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) says USDA’s new organic program rule on organic livestock access to pasture “ensures that the organic label lives up to consumers’ expectations and the expectations of our organic producers who have invested so heavily in the organic label and what it stands for.” 

The long-awaited rule, five years in the making and released today (Friday), offers clear and enforceable pasture standards for farmers raising organic livestock, including dairy cows. USDA received more than 26,000 comments to the proposed rule from producers, retailers, handlers, certifying agents, consumers, trade associations, organic associations, state and local government entities and various industry groups.  The final rule is available on the USDA website at http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nopaccesstopasture.   

Rebutting complaints during the comment period from large Western dairy operations about a pasture requirement, Leahy rejoined, “If Vermont’s organic dairy farmers with our snowy winters can find ways to give their cows access to natural growing pasture habitat, then organic farmers in milder climes ought to be ashamed to claim they cannot.” 

Leahy is the “father” of the national organic standards and labeling program and the author of the program’s charter, the Organic Food Production Act, which marks its 20th anniversary this year. 

“This is an administration that treats the organic program as a priority, not as an inconvenience,” said Leahy in a statement.  “They listened during the comment period, and they kept their eyes on the road.  USDA is working to keep faith with consumers, producers and the organic program’s charter.  Our organic sector is still young, and these are important, formative years when it is especially important to set and maintain standards that consumers and producers can trust.  Consumers need to know that the organic label needs to mean what it says.  Organic farming means extra work and added costs, and producers deserve to know that everyone is following the same rules.” 

Leahy continued, “I applaud Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Merrigan for making sure that there are clear and enforceable standards, which are essential to the vitality and the credibility of organic agriculture.”  Vilsack will be in Vermont this weekend, including for the keynote address at the winter conference in Burlington of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.  Vermont is home to nearly 200 certified organic dairy farms.

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