Last Minute Rulemaking by Bush USDA Threatens Organic Farmers

Consumers and Farmers Join Together to Promote Organic Integrity

CORNUCOPIA, Wis., Dec. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Many media outlets, from the New York Times to the blogosphere, have tracked what’s been dubbed the “corporate takeover” of organic farming. One of the hottest controversies in this rapidly growing $20 billion industry has been giant factory farms milking thousands of cows each in feedlots and masquerading as organic.

Since the organic community first appealed to the USDA for better clarification and enforcement of regulations requiring organic dairy producers to graze their cattle, nearly 9 years ago, the number of giant industrial dairy operations, with as many as 10,000 cows, has grown from two to approximately 15. Finally the USDA has responded with a proposed rule that they said would crack down on abuses.

“The birds have come home to roost,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute. The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group estimates there are 35,000 to 45,000 cows on giant CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) operating in the United States producing as much as 40% of the nation’s organic milk supply.

“These CAFOs are producing so much milk that they have depressed pricing and profit margins for organic family farmers. Now some are being forced out of business by this distressing situation,” Kastel said.

The Cornucopia Institute has filed formal legal complaints with the USDA aimed at compelling the agency to enforce organic livestock and management rules. These actions have led to the shut down or penalizing of some of the “organic scofflaws.”

The new USDA rule proposal totals 26 pages in the Federal Register. The draft rule complies with organic community requests to close specific loopholes but also represents the broadest rewrite of federal organic regulations in the $20 billion industry’s history.

Some farm advocates believe that the new rules, if enacted, would put out of business the hundreds of ethical organic livestock farmers.

“At first we were delighted that the USDA had stopped their delaying tactics and published a rule cracking down on the large factory farms that have been ‘scamming’ organic consumers and placing ethical family farmers at a competitive disadvantage,” stated Bill Welch, former chairman of the National Organic Standards Board and an Iowa livestock producer. “Many have spent the past weeks carefully examining this dense document, and it has become painfully clear that it would not only crack down on factory farm abuses, but it’s also so restrictive that it would likely put the majority of family farmers producing organic milk and meat out of business.”

“It’s inexcusable,” noted Ronnie Cummins, Director of the Organic Consumers Association, “that the USDA would allow, as part of this rule, that conventional cattle to be brought onto organic farms, and milked, on a continuous basis.”

In response to the USDA’s sweeping proposal, a consortium of organizations representing organic family farmers has crafted an “alternative” rule proposal. The revisions they have drafted would carry out what is said to be the will of the organic community, farmers and consumers.

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