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National Organic Program's New Organic Standards Exempt Beef Cattle From Pasture

By Lynn Buske  Posted by Will Fantle (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 3 pages)   No comments
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Support New Three-Tiered Label System -- Comments due April 19th, 2010

Should organic ruminants such as a dairy cows and beef cattle -- which have evolved to eat grass -- be permitted to be kept in feedlots or should they be required by USDA organic regulations to obtain at least a portion of their feed directly from pasture?

According to the USDA's new organic pasture rule, released in February 2010, pasture grazing is required in organic dairy production, but organic beef cattle may be exempt from obtaining any of their feed from pasture during the last four months of their lives.

The New Pasture Rule's Exemption for Beef Cattle

The rule states that organic producers must "maintain all ruminant animals on pasture," but, in an apparent contradiction, may simultaneously also utilize "dry lots, yards or feedlots" for grain finishing of slaughter stock, such as beef cattle, during the last 120 days or one-fifth of the animal's life, whichever is shorter. During these 120 days, these organic animals are exempt from the requirement to obtain at least 30% dry matter intake (DMI) from pasture.

The USDA is seeking comments as to whether or not the current language should be strengthened or weakened. The final determination on this language will more clearly define how organic beef is produced.

A comprehensive analysis of this issue can be found at:

Current Practices in the Organic Beef Industry

To gain a deeper understanding of current practices in the organic beef industry, Cornucopia surveyed organic beef producers from across the nation. Results of the survey revealed that 80% of organic beef producers graze their beef cattle on pasture until slaughter, never confining them to a feedlot. In fact, 60% of organic beef producers never feed any grain to their cattle (100% grass-fed), while 20% maintain their cattle on pasture but provide small amounts of grain. The new rule's exemption for ruminant slaughter stock from obtaining feed from pasture is therefore not needed by the vast majority of organic beef producers.

Yet, the remaining one-fifth of the nation's organic beef producers are currently using feedlots for finishing, The Cornucopia Institute understands that there is support from some stakeholders for an exemption from obtaining 30% DMI from pasture for ruminant slaughter stock. These farmers, ranchers and feedlot operators currently likely produce a majority of the nation's organic meat supply.

Cornucopia's Proposal for Three-Tiered Labeling System

Given the well-documented benefits of pasture grazing, for environmental protection, animal welfare, food safety and consumer health, Cornucopia proposes a three-tiered labeling system for organic meat from ruminants.

Under the proposed system, three labels would be used for organic meat from ruminants:

1. "Organic Grain Finished" For meat from animals that needed the exemption from pasture during the last 120 days (might include finishing in feedlots).

2. "Organic Pasture/Grain Finished" For meat from animals that were maintained on pasture until slaughter, obtained at least 30% of their feed intake from pasture during the grazing season but received small amounts of grain supplementation at some point.

3. "Organic 100% Grass Fed" For meat from animals that were 100% grass-fed, never receiving any grain in their diet.

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I work for The Cornucopia Institute. We are a non-profit that works to protect sustainable/organic food and small-scale farming. We often write press releases surrounding what is happening in the industry and what our research discovers. You can (more...)
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