USDA loophole lets penned cows get certified organic

The U.S. Department of Agriculture may be caving to owners of factory dairy farms by failing to revise some rules on organic milk. At issue is how the agency defines an organic bovine. One requirement is that the cows have “access to pasture,” but another provision allows them to be raised in confined pens during a “stage of production.” Claiming that lactation is such a stage, some factory dairy farms have been keeping their mega-herds in pens, feeding them organic cow chow, and still getting certified. In March, the National Organic Standards Board recommended closing the loophole that allows this, but the USDA says new language for the pasture rule won’t be out until next spring. Burgeoning demand for organic moo juice is outracing supply by around 10 percent, so the financial stakes are high. Some smaller dairies say consumers expect organic milk to come from grass-fed cows. Ads “never show cows eating on dry lots,” says New York organic dairy farmer Kathie Arnold. “They promote … the idyllic view of cows on green pastures.”