WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its final rule for transitioning conventional dairy cows to organic production under the National Organic Program.

The Origin of Livestock (OOL) final rule still allows dairy producers to transition conventional dairy cows to organic production one time per operation. Also, once a dairy is certified organic, animals must be managed as organic from the last third of gestation. The rule does allow small businesses to request variances for specific scenarios.

USDA changed organic regulations to “promote a fairer and more competitive market” for organic dairy producers, by ensuring that certified USDA organic dairy products are produced to the same consistent standard.

“This action demonstrates the USDA’s strong commitment to America’s organic dairy farmers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “The Origin of Livestock final rule provides clear and uniform standards about how and when livestock may be transitioned to organic dairy production, and how transitioned animals are managed within the organic dairy system. Now, all organic dairy livestock producers will have the confidence and certainty they are operating in a fair and competitive market.”

“We’re glad to see this moving forward,” said Britt Lundgren, director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture, Stonyfield Farm, which is a member of the Organic Trade Association (OTA). “This rulemaking closes a longstanding loophole and provides much-needed clarity and consistency for organic dairy producers across the country.”

Before the final rule, according to the OTA, organic dairy animals were removed from a herd, raised using conventional feed and other noncompliant management practices, and then transitioned back to organic. This practice created an economic disadvantage for organic dairy producers who raise their own replacement animals in compliance with regulations.

“We appreciate that after years of advocacy, USDA has finalized this key rule to ensure integrity across organic dairy and apply equitable standards to all organic dairy farmers,” said Chris Adamo, vice president, Government & Public Affairs, Danone North America.