Lori Dahm,
technical editor

The USDA is currently holding a “comment period” on the regulation requiring dairy cows have access to pasture if the products made from their carry the organic label. Recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board are that organic dairy cows be granted at least 120 days of pasture; current wording of organic regulations simply state that the cows must be given some pasture access.
The question is similar to the recent growing pains of the organic industry overall with respect to synthetic ingredients: What is the end goal for the organic market? Is it to allow more consumers access to organic products? Or is it to uphold stringent regulations for how products qualify as “organic?”
Personally, I think the dairy industry is uniquely positioned to survive the fallout regardless of how the USDA rules, because consumers do find value in fluid milk products that are labeled “rBGH and antibiotic-free,” even if said products are not labeled “organic.” And while some polls indicate that 60 percent of consumers would not pay the same price for organic-labeled milk if they knew the cows were not given free access to pasture, I say let those products carry a different price, then, and let the market absorb the resulting stratification.
Organic dairy products are the entry point for many consumers into the organic world, so it’s interesting that this very segment is approaching an apocalypse for organic standards. How this issue is resolved may be a good prognosticator for the future of organic regulations.