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USDA NOP Proposed Pasture Regulation

Oregon Tilth Comments on Proposed Pasture Regulation

The National Organic Program released it's proposed pasture regulation.  These proposed changes, if adopted, would affect every organic livestock producer, regardless of size, livestock species, or region.  All comments will be considered by the National Organic Program and are very instrumental in shaping the regulation.

Contact Kristy Korb, Certification Director or Tiffanie Huson Labbe, Farm Program Manager at 503.378.0690 with any questions or concerns

The full proposal can be found on the National Organic Program's website, or download here (pdf)

Oregon Tilth Certified Organic Overview Comments on the Proposed
Pasture Regulation.

23 December 2008

Re:  Docket Number AMS-TM-06-0198; TM-05-14

Dear Mr. Matthews:

Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) is a nonprofit research and education membership organization dedicated to biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture. An NOP accredited certifier since 2002, OTCO currently certifies over 230 organic livestock operations, over 180 of those being dairies, in 23 states and two countries, affording us a broad perspective of current practices and challenges faced by organic farmers, as well as the anticipated effects and challenges that this proposed rule will have upon them.

OTCO has notified our farmers of this proposed rule, encouraging them to submit comments to the USDA, as well as to us. We received many responses, which we have incorporated into this document. In addition we anticipate many of our clients to send their individual comments to you.

OTCO welcomed the release of these proposed rules and the subsequent Listening Sessions conducted throughout the country, and we appreciate the opportunity to submit comments. In the intervening sixty days since the release of this pasture proposal, we have been a part, as well, of the comment writing process of the FOOD Farmers, the Organic Trade Association and the Accredited Certifiers Association. We agree with the bulk of their comments, but, as is usual in such intricate matters, we disagree on other fundamental principles. We will use our public comment to reinforce common agreement, as well as to voice our position(s) where we do not concur.

During the myriad of discussions leading to the development of these comments, the natural maturation of the organic movement during the almost three years since the Pennsylvania Pasture Symposium became apparent. This is significant, since with the changing landscape comes changing needs, changing solutions and continuous improvement.
 
Significant factors reflecting these natural, evolving changes include:
•    Communication, training, auditing and enforcement of certifiers and their non-compliant clients by the NOP has motivated improved practices, raising the bar of minimally acceptable organic management practices.
•    Communication between accredited certifiers has improved, facilitating increasingly uniform interpretation of the existing regulation.
•    Consumer awareness and pressure has motivated organic milk producers, buyers and processors to improve their practices in alignment with the intent of the existing regulation

As a result, we feel that many of the prescriptive practices that were recommended in 2006 (during the public comment ending 6/12/06) are no longer necessary to evaluate and enforce inadequate compliance by accredited certifiers and their clients. With the expansion of the NOP staff, including the appointment of a Compliance and Enforcement Chief, we look forward to working closely with the NOP on a continued path of improvement.

While we, like other groups and individuals have attached specific replacement language recommendations at the request of the NOP we would like to focus on the broader intent of where we concur and disagree with these proposed rules.

The intent of this rulemaking process is to clarify access to pasture for ruminants, to curtail or improve substandard practices by a minority of so-called “Bad Actors”, to ensure healthy organic land, livestock and farmers and therefore to bolster the integrity of the NOP ‘organic’ label.

The intent of Access to Pasture on an organic livestock operation is to have producers maximize available forages during the growing season, maintain ruminants on pasture with a focus on welfare, and to do so in a sustainable, conscious, resource-conservation manner.

The intent of an Organic System Plan is to document, review, inspect and ultimately verify details of how a farmer intends to comply with organic regulations.

It is this Organic System Plan approach that Oregon Tilth is using in our public comment as a filter to critique, commend and offer suggestions for the practicality, compatibility and enforceability of these proposed regulations.

GENERAL COMMENTS:

1.    Oregon Tilth agrees with the ACA, FOOD Farmers, the OTA and many other commenters at the listening sessions that this Proposed Rule as written is over prescriptive, resulting in an inherently unnecessary workload for the vast majority of organic farmers who are currently adequately managing for Access To Pasture. We also agree that this Proposed Rule can be streamlined into a practical, enforceable rule that meets the goals of all stakeholders. At each listening session Mr. Mathews explained that the NOP’s intent was to craft a deliberately prescriptive Proposed Rule, which, once vetted, could be reduced to a more manageable Final Rule. Thus, in our revision we have recommended the removal of language that is currently addressed elsewhere in the existing regulation or would be better issued as guidance instead of regulation.

2.    Oregon Tilth agrees with many commenters in opposing the requirement that ruminants be managed on pasture year round, that feedlots and barn yards be categorically prohibited, the elimination of provisions allowing for grain finishing of organic beef and the proposal for sacrificial pasture. 

3.    Oregon Tilth believes that compliance to Access To Pasture for ruminants can be assessed and enforced through the Organic System Plan. We are on record at the April, 2006, Pasture Symposium and still remain opposed to the 30% dry matter intake requirement, the 120-day grazing season requirement and the over six months pasture requirement for dairy young stock. We feel that these static, prescriptive requirements will serve as pinch points for a significant number of organic farmers who are adequately managing their herds for Access To Pasture and who will be unfairly and unnecessarily affected, both economically and possibly to the point of decertification.  Our experience with organic dairies over a wide geographic and climatic range have convinced us that Goal Based, not Metrics Based standards allow for a broader diversity of management practices and therefore are the best way to move forward with a workable regulation. We appreciate the FOOD Farmers’ and other producers’ attempts to establish metrics, however we feel that certifiers better understand how regulatory language looks and works, and how an appropriate regulation can be implemented and enforced, practically and with the best interests of the organic community and industry in mind, on a regulatory basis.

4.    Oregon Tilth does not agree with the proposed revision to §205.236 pertaining to Origin of Livestock. We feel that the inclusion of this very complex and controversial topic in the Proposed Pasture Regulation is erroneous and so must be removed and addressed in a separate Proposed Rule. At each Listening Session, Mr. Mathews clarified that the NOP wants to use this Proposed Rule as a vehicle to generate comments pertaining to Origin of Livestock. As such, our position on this matter is included in the revised language section of these comments. However, we are opposed to the revision as written and favor a uniform single-track system for raising and purchasing replacement animals, one which includes an allowance for transitioned animals to be sold to any certified organic operation. Again, the final language in this pasture proposal should not reflect the current proposal for replacement animals.

5.    Oregon Tilth recommends the addition of several definitions (including Grazing season) and a revision of several definitions (including Inclement weather.) These definitions are critical to clear regulation. 

6.    Finally, Oregon Tilth is concerned that this regulation as written could create additional challenges regarding the import and export of organic products since it could result in standards that are not addressed in other recognized benchmark standards such as Europe, Canada and Japan. We are concerned that at a time when the development of international equivalence agreements are a high priority, that these rules would inhibit trade, and we would request that the Program investigate all possible issues prior to publication.


SUGGESTED CHANGES TO REGULATORY TEXT & COMMENTS:
- Deletions to the proposed regulation are STRUCKTHROUGH
- Additions, adjustments, and comments are COLORED BLUE, AND ITALICIZED. 

To view the full suggested regulator text changes requested by Oregon Tilth download here...

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