Back in October of 2008, the USDA proposed changes to the standards that govern organic dairy farms –– those seeking the "organic certification" were required to give their cows "access to pasture." According to Kathie Arnold, (NY State organic dairy farmer and President of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), a NOC member), “[the] draft rule provides specific language needed for enforcement of one of the central tenets of organically produced livestock—that organic livestock spend a considerable part of their lives in their natural pasture habitat and receive a significant portion of their food from fresh, green, growing pasture.”
Over the years, some large dairy companies have chosen to either interpret loosely or "willfully violate tenets of federal organic regulations" altogether. Seemingly, the Obama administration (Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA) has "taken the bull by the horn," including the organic program. Back in December of 2009, one of the largest organic cattle producers in the U.S., Promiseland Livestock (a multimillion dollar operation out of Nebraska), was "decertified" by the USDA –– suspended from organic commerce for four years for their improprieties.
This past February, the USDA released stronger organic USDA rules –– "regulations that establish distinct benchmarks requiring the grazing and pasturing of dairy cows and other livestock," which was delayed by the Bush administration and is expected to go into effect around June 16, 2010. According to Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute (one of the industry's most aggressive watchdogs), “The public controversies concerning Aurora Dairy (a $100+ million company based in Colorado, who produces a private-label, store brand milk for Wal-Mart, Costco and large grocery chains), and alleged improprieties by the largest milk processor in the country, Dean Foods (Horizon Organic), put increasing pressure on the USDA to rein-in the scofflaws in this industry.”
Many of us, including the smaller organic dairy farmers, are eager to see that these stricter regulations will put an end to the abuses (some criminal in my opinion) that have flooded the organic market by a handful of mega-dairies –– specifically the treatment of livestock –– and restore fairness and integrity to the organic dairy sector. Cornucopia, who has criticized the Bush administration and his arm of the USDA, has their hope that the Obama administration will be "swift" to enforce and penalize any abuses.