USDA Seeks Comments on Controversy Surrounding Confining Organic Livestock

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Fantle, 715-839-7731

USDA Seeks Comments on Controversy Surrounding Confining Organic Livestock

Farmers/Ranchers Square-off in Debate About 100% Pasture Versus Feedlots

CORNUCOPIA, Wis. - The
new USDA organic pasture rule strengthening the requirement for grazing and
pasturing livestock may not apply to beef cattle and other ruminants in meat
production.  In fact, the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) is
seeking comments from farmers and consumers on a proposal to allow some level
of confinement in feedlots for, as an example, organic beef cattle during the
last four months of their lives during the "finishing" period prior
to slaughter (when industry standards would feed them mostly grain/corn). 

The Cornucopia Institute, a
farm policy research group based in Wisconsin,
surveyed a broad spectrum of organic meat producers to better understand their
production practices.  The results reveal a wide range of practices. 

Cornucopia found that the vast majority of organic beef producers graze
their beef cattle on pasture until slaughter, never confining them to a
feedlot.  Approximately 60% of organic beef producers never feed any grain to
their cattle (100% grass-fed).  And another 20% maintain their cattle on
pasture but provide small amounts of grain.  The new rule's proposed exemption
for ruminant slaughter stock from obtaining feed from pasture is therefore not
needed by the vast majority of farmers and ranchers producing organic beef.

The balance of organic producers say they need to depend on feedlots
for finishing their cattle on grain in order to conform to market demand for
meet that grades-out at choice under the USDA inspection system.

"In order to accommodate all production models we are asking the
USDA to implement a new labeling approach for organic meat that better reflects
the realities in organic agriculture," said Mark Kastel,
Cornucopia's Senior Farm Policy Analyst. 

The three labels proposed for organic meat from ruminants would be
"Organic - Grain Finished," "Organic - Pasture/Grain
Finished," and "Organic - 100% Grass Fed."

Consumers are
increasingly interested in grass-fed meats.  Some would likely be surprised to
find that "organic" and "grass-fed" are not
synonymous.  The environmental advantages of grass-based livestock agriculture,
its nutritional superiority as well as animal welfare benefits are reported not
only in scientific articles, but are also covered extensively in the popular
media, ranging from Mother Earth News to Time Magazine, Forbes and the Oprah
Winfrey Show
.

Producers of organic
grain-fed beef strongly believe that consumer preference and the marketplace
dictate their production practices.  American consumers have grown accustomed
to the texture and flavor of meat that's gained by corn-feeding cattle in
a feedlot.  The USDA's current grading system for meat also rewards high
levels of intramuscular fat in beef - which is more easily achieved
through finishing cattle on grain instead of grass. 

As an alternative, some
organic farmers and ranchers also add small amounts of grain to their
animal's diet while they remain on pasture.  This approach helps with
weight gain and the flavor familiar to many consumers and leads some organic
supporters to feel that it more accurately reflects the environmental and
animal husbandry values the organic label is based on. 

"We think the three-tier labeling system will help farmers and
ranchers better develop their markets and consumers will gain transparency and
choice in their consumption of organic meat," Kastel explained.

The NOP is accepting public comments on its proposed feedlot exemption
from pasture for organic beef ruminants until April 19.  Mailed comments must
be postmarked by that date and email comments are accepted until midnight on
the 19th at www.regulations.gov
(search for AMS-TM-06-0198 on the site)

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The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community.  Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.  Their web page can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.  

 

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