The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) has missed the deadline that was given by Congress to finalize the Origin of Livestock Rule. A coalition of industry groups including the Organic Farmers Association, California Certified Organic Farmers, National Organic Coalition, and the National Farmers Union sent a letter calling on lawmakers to enforce their mandate for NOP to finalize the rule.
“The rule is critical for creating a level playing field for all organic dairy producers and will safeguard the integrity of the organic label,” the letter stated. “Organic dairy farmers are suffering and continued delays in implementing this rule will prolong the dire economics facing organic dairy farmers, as well as jeopardize consumers’ trust in the organic label.”
NOP was initially given 180 days to finalize the rule and has missed the June 17 deadline. Changes to the Origin of Livestock rule were proposed back in 2015, however, the process did not progress any further. Two comment periods have since been conducted in relation to the rule change, with one in 2017 and another in 2019. Organic producers have voiced concern that failure to update the rule creates an unfair advantage for some producers. “The delay in issuing a final rule has resulted in economic harm for organic dairy farmers from low pay prices caused by an oversupply of organic milk that is enabled by loopholes in the current rule,” the coalition noted in its letter.
The underlying issue that many organic producers are concerned with is how the current Origin of Livestock Rule is enforced for organic dairy production. As it stands now, dairy operations are given a 12-month transition period to switch from conventional to organic. This provision allows dairy farmers to continually transition different groups of animals, which are considered to be new herds. Some industry members have pointed to this allowance as creating a competitive disadvantage, as costs for conventional production are significantly less expensive. The industry groups are urging lawmakers to “make sure that the NOP complies with Congress’ mandate and finalizes the origin of organic livestock rule as soon as possible.”