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Vermont Organic Industry Celebrates Change In Federal Dairy Rule

Vermont Organic Industry Celebrates Change In Federal Dairy Rule

Members of Vermont's organic industry are celebrating after the U.S. Department of Agriculture closed a loophole in dairy standards.

The USDA Origin of Livestock rule outlines how organic dairy farms can source the cows they use to produce milk. Generally, organic dairy farms can only transition cows from conventional care — using antibiotics and cheaper, non-organic feed — to the more expensive organic care once in that farm's lifetime.

Under the old version of the rule however, Vermont Organic Farmers certification director Nicole Dehne says some out-of-state certifiers could allow operations to continuously raise cows using conventional care, then switching to organic care when the cows were a year old.

"So they would basically get, you know, a year — maybe a bit more — of the cost savings and managing those young stock," Dehne said.

In the new version of the rule published Tuesday, that practice is prohibited. Organic dairy operations can only transition cows from conventional to organic practices once in the operation's lifetime, and they cannot add transitioned cows from another operation. Any cows an organic dairy farm raises or buys have to be managed organically starting even before they're born — the breeding cow has to be managed organically starting in the final three months before birth.

Vermont organic industry

Dehne called this change a "win."

"This is a regulation change that we've been advocating for for many years," she said. "And this does level the playing field for organic dairy producers all across the country. So that is really exciting."

The Real Organic Project, a farmer-led movement that began in Vermont in response to the lack of enforcement of USDA organic standards, tweeted to "break out the champagne" (and to "make sure it's organic bubbles") in response to the news.

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