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Published March 26, 2014 09:05 AM

Organic Standards Lowered for Livestock in Drought-Ridden California

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.

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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."

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