Federal Regulation of Organic Farming

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Is there a federal standard for what "organic" means when it comes to farm fresh milk?

Ruva (Ruvarashe) Munyariwa

Introduction to political Science, POS1001

Professor Schuman

January 23, 2011

With the organic industry booming and up until recently showing an annual growth rate of 20% it has been necessary for the federal government to step in and regulate the previously self regulated industry. Initially, regulation of this industry was implemented by private nonprofit organizations and some state governments as a way to put an end to consumer fraud and to ensure the integrity of organic food. This resulted in a cornucopia of varying standards which lacked uniformity and led to congress passing the Act of 1990 to establish standards for organically produced commodities as part of the1990 Farm bill. Through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Organic Program (NOP) develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards of organic produce. The standards implemented by the NOP certify that the specific practices used to produce and process organic agricultural ingredients used for food adhere to the regulations. These standards are so stringent that they even regulate packaging material for organic foods; organic foods are not to be packed in packaging that contains synthetic fungicide, preservative or fumigant. These standards also require that organic growers and handlers be certified, either by state or private organizations that have been duly accredited by the USDA. The only exception to this rule is for farmers that sell less than $5000 a year in organic agriculture and retailers that do not process organic produce in any way.  

The term organic refers to anything that is grown without the use of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, ionizing irradiation or bioengineering, synthetic chemicals and where animals are concerned, organic farmers are required to adhere to rules about the humane treatment of animals. The USDA has determined the labeling guide lines for organic food. Only foods that are “100% organic” and “organic” may display the USDA Organic Seal. Where 100% organic refers to single ingredient foods such as meat, fruit, vegetables, milk and cheese and grain and organic refers to a multiple ingredient food that is 95-100% organic. Other foods with varying levels of organic ingredients have to carry different labels. A “Made with organic ingredients” label can be put on food where 70% of its ingredients are organic and “Contains organic ingredients” can be put on any food that contains less than 70% organic ingredients. Knowingly mislabeling products as organic when the rules and regulations of organic food production were not adhered to is illegal and perpetrators are liable to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per infraction.

Using the USDA definition, organic milk is milk produced from animals that have been raised in accordance to the rules implemented by the NOP. As well as the humane treatment of animals the NOP requires that all organic livestock involved in the production of milk have their natural nutritional and behavioral requirements accommodated. Dairy cows and other ruminants over six months of age, are required to have access to pasture for 30% of the time on land that has been pesticide free and has not had any prohibited substances applied to it for at least three years. These animals must also have access to the outdoors, fresh air, direct sunlight, shade and shelter and must receive adequate exercise and have to be raised separately from conventional dairy cows. All feed for these dairy cows has to be 100% organic for a full year prior to milk production and their manure has to be managed in such a way to prevent contamination of food and water sources. A lot emphasis is...
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