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Organic Standards Lowered for Livestock in Drought-Ridden California

Organic Standards Lowered for Livestock in Drought-Ridden California

This post was written by John Deike and originally appeared on EcoWatch

Due to California’s historic drought, a variance was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in February that enables applicable organic livestock farmers in the Golden State to temporarily disregard the feeding standards that allow them to stamp their product as organic.

Organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock’s grass diet with organic feed, but there is concern that this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards.

Farmers, whose grazing season include February and March, are not required to have their livestock grass-fed during those months given the absence of grass. Essentially, scores of cows will graze for only two months instead of four, which is the amount of time typically required to label livestock as organic.

During that time, “organic ruminant livestock producers … are not required to graze or provide dry matter intake from pasture during this time period,” the variance states. “Producers may reduce their 2014 grazing season by the number of days that correspond to this time period in their grazing plan.”

The USDA variance was approved after the federal agency received several requests from the California Certified Organic Farmers and Marin Organic Certified Agriculture, and it will only apply to farmers operating within the 53 out of 58 counties that have been deemed primary natural disaster areas, according to the The Huffington Post.

“It’s huge because we still don’t have pasture for cows to graze on,” Albert Straus of the Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma told The Guardian. “We lost at least a month to a month-and-a-half of pasture,” he said, adding that the grass died out last December.

President Obama recently visited California to provide a $183 million aid package, but Straus said the government funding (which has topped $1.2 billion overall) will do little to fix the widespread problem. “As far as I know it’s not fast enough or enough money to help the farmers,” he added. “I don’t think it will touch the losses that farmers will have.”

According to the California Certified Organic Farmers, organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock’s grass diet with organic feed, but there is concern that this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards.

“It’s a necessary evil,” Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, told The Huffington Post. “We’ll support this variance if that’s the only alternative.”

“Grass-fed dairy or beef has higher levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6, which is extremely important in human health,” said Cummins. “There’s no doubt that feeding grain to animals that aren’t supposed to be eating grain is not good for them, not good for the environment and not good for consumers.”

According to the USDA, the variance is temporary, but the timeline could be extended if the drought continues to devastate California’s farming communities.

In January, after the state of California formally declared a drought emergency, Juliet Christian-Smith, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained, “The current historically dry weather is a bellwether of what is to come in California, with increasing periods of drought expected with climate change.”

The record breaking drought has taken a tremendous toll on the state of California.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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95 comments

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12:33AM PDT on Apr 4, 2014

Not good but honest labeling is a must or they will lose all credibility. Water restrictions need to be imposed & monitored, golf courses should all use same type of artificial turf used on football fields.

5:14AM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

Thank you.

11:14PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Thank you!!

2:16PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

oh my

6:57AM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

sad

6:13AM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Noted. Thanks.

4:16AM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

We are way too over populated to all go organic with animal eating. I feel so sorry for the cows just as the cats and dogs that get eaten and are considered human food.

12:08AM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Hope weather will improve to minimize the drought.

5:45PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Well the solution to the drought is very simple, the American people just need to petition their slave masters to have the military stop creating this historic drought with their HAARP machine in Alasaka. This technology was developed under the guise of being useful in war but its actually being used to put pressure on countries and their own people to conform to the will of the salve masters. God certainly would not do this as he is all about unconditional loving.This is something we need to learn how to do.

2:35PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Thank you.

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