Organic Dairy Certification: Why, How, and What?

Organic Agriculture July 05, 2012|Print

eOrganic author:

Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

Organic Marketplace

According to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), consumer demand for organic milk has burgeoned in recent years, resulting in rapid growth in retail sales of organic milk. The ERS reports that U.S. retail sales of organic milk have been growing since the mid-1990s, with sales of organic milk and cream edging over $1 billion in 2005, up 25 percent from 2004. At the same time, overall sales of milk have remained constant since the mid-1980s, and organic milk and cream now make up an estimated 6 percent of retail milk sales (Dimitri and Venezia, 2007).

Nielsen Label Trends found that "refrigerated organic milk sold in food, drug, and mass outlets for the 52-week period ended Oct. 6, 2007 increased 20.4 percent, on top of a whopping 32.3 percent surge last year, while during the same period, unit volume grew 18.5 percent, after jumping 23.8 percent in 2006" (Goldschmidt, 2008).

Likewise, markets for organic meat are expanding rapidly. Organic meat sales in the United States increased by 51% in 2005, with the highest growth reported in the organic beef market, according to market survey data (Organic Monitor, 2006).

In order to be sold in the United States as "organic," all agricultural products, including domestic and imported livestock products, must comply with National Organic Program regulations. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the production and labeling of "organic" livestock and livestock products under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the National Organic Program (NOP), Section 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 205, which is also known as the "NOP Final Rule" (USDA, 2000).

Regulations

This section explains the regulations for the production and labeling of livestock and dairy products as “organic” in the United States. In short, all organic livestock operations that sell over $5000/year of organic products, and those who wish to sell their products to be used as organic ingredients or organic feed by others, must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. Dairy animals must be fed and managed organically for at least one year prior to the production of organic milk. Slaughter animals must be managed organically from the last third of gestation, or from the second day after hatching for poultry. Feed must be 100% organic. All livestock must have access to the outdoors, and ruminants must have access to pasture during the growing season. Organic livestock producers must establish preventative livestock health management practices. Medical treatment cannot be withheld from sick animals to maintain the animals' organic status. The use of growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, and cloning is prohibited, as is the feeding of slaughter by-products. All organic livestock production and processing operations must be certified by USDA-accredited certification agencies. Detailed records of all feeds, medications, and transactions must be maintained. Organic integrity must be protected by preventing organic livestock and livestock products from coming in contact with prohibited substances or being commingled with non-organic products.

Definitions

Organic Production: The Final Rule defines "organic production" as "a production system that is managed ... to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity." (CFR Section 7, Part 205, NOP Regulatory Text). This means that, in order to be certified for organic production of livestock or dairy, producers must use cultural, biological, and/or mechanical practices and employ ecological principles, such as conservation practices and recycling of resources.

Livestock: Under the Final Rule, "livestock" are defined as "any cattle, sheep, goat, swine, poultry, or equine animals used for the production of food, fiber, feed, or other agricultural-based consumer products; wild or domesticated game; or other non-plant life, except such term shall not include aquatic animals and bees for the production of food, fiber, feed, or other agricultural-based consumer products," (CFR Section 7, Part 205, NOP Regulatory Text).

Pasture: is defined as "land used for livestock grazing that is managed to provide feed value and maintain or improve soil, water, and vegetative resources," (CFR Section 7, Part 205, NOP Regulatory Text).

Conversion of Animals to Organic Production

In order to be sold as organic, §205.236 requires that all animals, except for poultry, dairy, and stock used exclusively for breeding, must be under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation prior to the animal's birth. Poultry or edible poultry products must be from poultry that has been under continuous organic management beginning no later than the second day after hatching.

Dairy Regulations

Organic milk or milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management for at least one year prior to the production of the milk or milk products. A one-time feed exemption for whole herds that newly transition to organic production allows the transitioning cows to be fed crops and forage from land included in the farm's organic system plan during the third year of transition. The crops and forage must be grown on land that has been free of prohibited substances for at least 24 months prior to harvest of the feed. These "third-year transitional" crops and forage may be consumed by the dairy animals on the farm during the 12-month period immediately prior to the sale of organic milk and milk products. Under this provision, an existing dairy farm can be converted to organic production in 3 years, with the land and animals simultaneously eligible for certification.

Once a herd is converted, all future dairy production animals must originate from animals that were managed organically from at least the last third of gestation. The animals must be fed and managed organically at all times in order to produce organic milk.

Pasture for Ruminants

Organic ruminant animals must be grazed on pasture during the grazing season, which is defined by the NOP as "the period of time when pasture is available for grazing, due to natural precipitation or irrigation. Grazing season dates may vary because of mid-summer heat/humidity, significant precipitation events, floods, hurricanes, droughts or winter weather events. Grazing season may be extended by the grazing of residual forage as agreed in the operation's organic system plan. Due to weather, season, or climate, the grazing season may or may not be continuous. Grazing season may range from 120 days to 365 days, but not less than 120 days per year."

During the grazing season, producers who raise organic ruminants are required to:

(1) Provide not more than an average of 70 percent of a ruminant's dry matter demand from dry matter fed (dry matter fed does not include dry matter grazed from residual forage or vegetation rooted in pasture). This shall be calculated as an average over the entire grazing season for each type and class of animal. Ruminant animals must be grazed throughout the entire grazing season for the geographical region, which shall be not less than 120 days per calendar year. Due to weather, season, and/or climate, the grazing season may or may not be continuous.

(2) Provide pasture of a sufficient quality and quantity to graze throughout the grazing season and to provide all ruminants under the organic system plan with an average of not less than 30 percent of their dry matter intake from grazing throughout the grazing season.

Ruminant animals that are temporarily denied pasture must be provided with an average of not less than 30 percent of their dry matter intake from grazing throughout the periods that they are on pasture during the grazing season. Breeding bulls are exempt from the 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing requirement, provided that they are not sold, labeled, used, or represented as organic slaughter stock.

Organic ruminant livestock producers must:

(1) Describe the total feed ration for each type and class of animal in the operation's organic system plan. The description must include:

  • All feed produced on-farm;
  • All feed purchased from off-farm sources;
  • The percentage of each feed type, including pasture, in the total ration; and
  • A list of all feed supplements and additives.

(2) Document the amount of each type of feed actually fed to each type and class of animal;

(3) Document changes that are made to all rations throughout the year in response to seasonal grazing changes; and

(4) Describe the method used for calculating dry matter demand and dry matter intake.


Organic ruminant producers are required to complete an organic pasture management plan. For more infomation on organic pasture requirements, read An Overview of the Access to Pasture Rule on Organic Dairy Farms.

Conclusion

The NOP final rule contains detailed requirements for the production and labeling of "organic" livestock and livestock products in the United States. All organic livestock operations that sell over $5000/year of organic products, and those who wish to sell their products to be used as organic ingredients or feed by others, must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. Organic ruminants must graze pasture during the grazing season. Livestock and crop producers who receive organic certification are rewarded by identification of their products as "organic" and are able to participate in this fast-growing market.

References and Citations

 

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

eOrganic 255

Connect with us

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube

Welcome

eXtension is an interactive learning environment delivering research-based information emerging from America's land-grant university system.

LOCATE

Donate to eOrganic

Your donation keeps eXtension growing.

Give Now