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Origin of Organic Dairy Livestock

The USDA National Organic Program regulations include requirements for the transition of dairy animals (cows, goats, sheep) into organic milk production. Milk sold or represented as organic must be from livestock that have been under continuous organic management for at least one year. This one-year transition period is allowed only when converting a conventional herd to organic. Once a distinct herd has been converted to organic production, all dairy animals must be under organic management from the last third of gestation.

Regulatory Uncertainty and Inconsistent Enforcement

Due to a lack of specificity in the regulations, some USDA-accredited certifiers allow dairies to routinely bring non-organic animals into an organic operation, and transition them for one year, rather than raise their own replacement animals under organic management from the last third of gestation. Additionally, some farmers are allowed to remove organic dairy animals from a herd, raise them using conventional feed and other prohibited management practices, and then retransition them back to organic. This practice of continuously transitioning and/or cycling dairy animals in and out of organic production is a violation of the organic standards and creates an economic disadvantage for organic farmers who raise their own organic replacement animals under organic management in accordance with the regulations.

Status of Rulemaking

On May 12, 2021, the USDA re-opened a 60-day comment period for the proposed rule on Origin of Livestock that was originally published on April 28, 2015. Under the proposed rule, a producer may transition non-organic dairy animals to organic milk production only once.

This is the third time that USDA is taking comments on this proposed rulemaking action. In 2019 and in 2015, the Organic Trade Association submitted comments in support of the proposed rule to clarify and narrow the allowance to transition dairy animals into organic milk production as a one-time event, and urged USDA to move expeditiously to implement the final rule. Read OTA full comments here.

In both the 2015 and 2019 comment periods, public comments reflected widespread consensus and support for the proposed rule across the organic community.

Congressional Oversight

Congress has demonstrated strong bi-partisan support for this important organic issue. The Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations bill includes language requiring USDA to issue a final rule on the Origin of Livestock within 180 days.


Background Resources

OTA Fact Sheet and Summary of Proposed Rule   OTA 2015 comments on the Proposed Rule   OTA 2019 comments on the Proposed Rule  NOP Q&A on the Proposed Rule  Full text of the Proposed Rule




Johanna Mirenda
Farm Policy Director
(202) 812-7704