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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.

USDA Publishes Final Rule 

On April 5, 2022, the USDA National Organic Program published a final rule to amend the requirements for dairy animals eligible to produce organic milk and milk products. All operations must fully comply with the new requirements by April 5, 2023.

Overview of Final Rule

  • Organic milk and milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation. There is a one-time exception for operations to transition non-organic dairy animals to organic milk production by managing animals organically for 12-months. The transition must occur over a single 12-month period and all transitioning animals must end the transition at the same time.
  • Once an operation uses its one-time transition opportunity, it cannot transition any additional non-organic animals and cannot source any animals transitioned by other operations. There are additional flexibilities for small businesses (less than $1 million in annual receipts) to request a “variance” (special allowance) to source transitioned animals from another operation in limited situations including bankruptcy, insolvency, or inter-generational transfer.
  • Breeder stock must be managed organically from the last third of gestation of its offspring through the end of the period that the breeder stock is nursing its offspring.

OTA Final Fule Infosheet NOP Infographic 

Full Text of Final Rule 

NOP Website

Our Previous Comments

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 was the third time that USDA is taking comments on this proposed rulemaking action. In 2019 and in 2015, the Organic Trade Association also 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. In all three 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 Infosheet on the Final Rule OTA Infosheet on the Proposed Rule   OTA 2015 comments on the Proposed Rule   OTA 2019 comments on the Proposed Rule OTA 2021 comments on the Proposed Rule NOP Q&A on the Proposed Rule  Full text of the Proposed Rule