Details released on rule for pasture access

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Details of the final regulation regarding access to pasture for organic livestock operations were announced on Feb. 12 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This rule amends the National Organic Program (N.O.P.) regulations to clarify the use of pasture in raising organic ruminants.

U.S.D.A. said the final rule provides certainty to consumers that organic livestock production is a pasture-based system in which animals are actively grazing pasture during the grazing season. Most 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.

U.S.D.A. received many comments on provisions of the rule affecting finish feeding practices of slaughter livestock. The agency has extended the comment period for this provision for 60 days. Finish feeding is commonly used by organic farmers and ranchers to improve the grade of beef and involves feeding livestock grain.

"It is difficult to decouple standards for milking cows from standards for finish feeding," said Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary. "Since finish feeding gets swept up into this dairy rulemaking, we are taking an extra step and inviting public comment on the finish-feeding requirements. We want to be certain that our actions pertaining to finish feeding are aligned with organic principles."

This final rule culminates a process initiated in 2005 when the National Organic Standards Board recommended ruminants obtain a minimum 30% dry-matter intake for at least 120 days. Published on Oct. 28, 2008, the proposed rule received more than 26,000 comments from interested parties.

Main components of the rule include:

 Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days a 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.

 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.

The final rule becomes effective 120 days after publication, which is scheduled for June 17. Operations already certified organic will have one year to implement the provisions. Operations that obtain organic certification after the effective date will be expected to demonstrate full compliance, U.S.D.A. said.

Comments on the exceptions for finish feeding of ruminant slaughter stock may be submitted before April 19, even though this is a final rule. This 60-day comment period pertains to the finish feeding provisions only. Specific questions to consider and instructions for submitting comments are available on the N.O.P. website at http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOP.

Copies of the final rule and more information are published on-line at http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOP.
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