GOT ORGANIC MILK? “PASTURE”-IZE IT!: AN ANALYSIS OF THE USDA’S PASTURE REGULATIONS FOR ORGANIC DAIRY ANIMALS (.pdf file - 112.10 KB)
By Fatema Merchant
People who read organic milk carton labels likely imagine the cows behind the product grazing in wide-open pastures. While the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program regulations require in numerous places that cows have “access to pasture,” the Department has not established minimum pasture time for organic cows. The vague language has allowed the traditional vision of small family farms where cows spend their days nibbling on grass to be replaced, in many instances, by corporate owned farms that resemble feedlots and house thousands of cows. This article discusses the “access to pasture” issue and analyzes the ambiguity that has lead to widely varied farming practices and finished products. The vague language undermines the goals of the National Organic Program and threatens the integrity of the organic seal. This article suggests ways to clarify the standards and offers alternative solutions to the problems facing consumers, organic food advocates, and farmers because of the vague regulations.