Organic Milk Just Got Better!

April 16th, 2010 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Organic Milk Just Got Better!

On June 17, 2010 a new USDA regulation will go into effect that as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explains, “will give consumers confidence that organic milk or cheese comes from cows raised on pasture, and organic family farmers the assurance that there is one, consistent pasture standard that applies to dairy products.” After more than 5 years of working on this issue with farmers, retailers and trade associations, we now have a new rule in place. The new regulation requires that dairy cows graze during the grazing season, for a minimum of 120 days. The previous rule was pretty vague and required only access to pasture, but did not necessarily require the use of it.

According to the new rules the main points are:

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. Operations which obtain organic certification after the effective date will be expected to demonstrate full compliance.

The issue is that cows really don’t need pasture to produce milk. In many larger conventional dairies, cows are housed indoors. The irony is that if they eat more grain and use less energy walking around feeding on pasture, they actually produce more milk. This level of ”efficiency” has led to many large scale producers minimizing pasture walking and encouraging grain feed. This goes against the natural behaviour of cows, which is to eat grass. But with so much emphasis on quantity and production, the nutritional content of our milk has suffered. There is an excellent article by NY Times writer Jo Robinson at Eat Wild, that is a great read and provides a tremendous amount of valuable information detailing the health and nutritional value of having dairy cows graze on pasture land.

The new USDA law, however, makes it clear that all organic dairy cows must be out on the pasture during the grazing season for a minimum of 120 days, receiving at least 30% of their nutrition from fresh grass. The new rule was announced on February 12th; it will become effective June 17th; and will take full effect in one year. Progress is good!