Win for Organic Integrity! USDA Finalizes Organic Dairy Rules

Press Release from the National Organic Coalition

Washington, D.C. – March 29, 2022 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalized long-awaited organic dairy rules. The National Organic Coalition (NOC) had identified the rules, which are needed to create a fairer marketplace for organic dairy producers, as an urgent priority to be addressed by USDA. 

“Finally, USDA has responded to the call for a fair market for organic dairy producers,” said Ed Maltby, Executive Director of Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), a NOC member organization. “This is a win for organic dairy producers and all those who care about the integrity of the organic program. The new rule closes the loopholes that have given some operations an unfair advantage. The rule is meaningful and essential to protect the livelihoods of family-scale organic dairy producers.”

Organic dairy rules have provisions known as ‘Origin of Livestock’ – these provisions determine which animals can be considered organic and produce organic milk. ‘Origin of Livestock’ loopholes have been a longstanding problem, causing economic distress for family-scale organic dairy producers. A rule to close these loopholes was first proposed in 2015, but USDA delayed finalizing the rules for many years despite unwavering advocacy from NOC and the organic community and a direct mandate from Congress for their completion.

The final rule published today is an essential step forward to protect farmers’ livelihoods and the integrity of the organic seal. The rule will:

  • Create greater consistency in how dairy animals are transitioned into organic production – up until now inconsistent practices have given some operations an unfair economic advantage.
  • Require that milk and milk products come from dairy animals that have been managed as organic since before birth, with a one-time exception for the transition of a conventional dairy herd to organic production under a specific set of conditions.
  • Once the transition has been made, an operation can expand an organic dairy herd by adding animals that have been organically managed from before birth (from the last third of gestation). The operation cannot source transitioned animals from another operation.

NOC had strongly urged USDA to prevent transitioned animals from being sold to other operations as organic livestock because this creates a loophole that can be exploited to undercut operations that manage animals organically from before birth.

“The Biden administration and Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, have delivered a win for organic dairy producers, who have suffered too long due to inconsistent enforcement,” says Abby Youngblood, Executive Director of the National Organic Coalition. “This final rule will provide a framework to crack down on bad actors and will give the USDA National Organic Program the tools to prevent the egregious abuses that have harmed family organic dairy producers.” 

About the National Organic Coalition:

The National Organic Coalition (NOC) is a national alliance of organizations working to provide a “Washington voice” for farmers, ranchers, conservationists, consumers and industry members involved in organic agriculture. NOC seeks to advance organic food and agriculture and ensure a united voice for organic integrity.