The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the long-awaited details of the final rule regarding access to pasture for organic livestock. This rule amends the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations to clarify the use of pasture in raising organic ruminants. The final rule provides consumers with certainty that organic livestock production is a pasture-based system in which animals are actively grazing pasture during the grazing season.

The majority of organic dairy and ruminant livestock producers are already grazing animals and maintaining pastures that meet the requirements of this rule. These standards contain clear requirements that will provide greater assurance that all producers are being held to the same standards, which become effective on June 17, 2010. Operations that are already certified organic will have one year to implement the provisions, while those that obtain organic certification after the effective date must demonstrate full compliance.

This final rule is the culmination of a process that was initiated in 2005. The proposed rule, published on Oct. 28, 2008, received over 26,000 comments from producers, retailers, handlers, certifying agents, consumers, trade associations, organic associations, animal welfare organizations, consumer groups, state and local government entities, and various industry groups.

The main components of the rule include:
• Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year;
• Animals must obtain a minimum of 30% 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% dry matter intake requirements during the finish feeding period, not to exceed 120 days. Livestock must have access to pasture during the finishing phase.

Finish feeding is commonly used by organic farmers and ranchers to improve the grade of beef and involves feeding livestock grain. The USDA has extended the comment period for the finished feeding provision to  April 19, 2010.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2010