The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) said Monday it has withdrawn a proposed rule that would have closed a loophole allowing continuous transitioning of conventional dairy heifers to organic production.
In a Federal Register notice, the agency said the proposed rule was withdrawn on March 1. When it first introduced the Origin of Livestock proposed rule in 2015, the NOP said "organic operations and certifying agents have interpreted the current USDA organic regulations differently, leading to confusion about when the transition of a herd into organic production should be considered complete."
In September, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) met with Trump’s agriculture adivsor to urge finalization of the rule. The previous month, the trade group sent a letter to Ray Starling stating that "the missing clarification is causing market gluts and reduced farmer pay prices."
The proposed rule would have updated regulations by "explicity requiring" that milk or milk products labeled, sold, or represented as organic come from dairy animals that have been organically managed since the last third of gestation. However, the proposed rule also provides a one-time allowance for an organic producer to convert conventional dairy animals to organic milk production after a one-year transitional period.
The proposed rule, recommended by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member board of organic industry stakeholders advising the NOP on organic food and agriculture policies, was the NOP’s response to a report from the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) urging the NOP "to take action to end the inconsistent interpretation of current rules."
In July 2013, the OIG published an audit report on organic milk operations stating that certifying agents were interpreting the origin of livestock requirements differently. The report showed that three of the six certifiers it interviewed allowed producers to continuously transition additional herds to organic milk production, while the other three certifiers did not permit this practice.
OIG had recommended that a proposed rule be issued to clarify the standard and ensure that all certifiers consistently apply and enforce the origin of livestock requirements.
The NOP said in 2015 that the proposed rule does just that by establishing "a level playing field" for organic dairy producers, since organically raised dairy animals are typically more expensive than those transitioned to organic operations through a one-year transition process.
The proposed rule means organic dairies that currently sell their excess organic replacement heifers may see an increase in demand and price for their heifers, while dairies that already raise their own organic replacement heifers would not be affected.