By Kathie Arnold
What makes a cow organic? The answer has certainly been controversial over the last several years, especially when it comes to grazing cows on pasture. However, I would submit that the National Organic Program regulation, which states that all ruminants must have access to pasture, has been clear right from the start to the vast majority of organic dairy farms and certifiers.
Only a small minority of operators and certifiers took advantage of the absence of a definitively worded regulation to minimize grazing; they also loosely interpreted, if not disregarded, the several citations to pasture requirements in the USDA regulations. This failure to come to the same understanding and application as everyone else seems to stem from a profit motive-to make more organic milk for the marketplace. For example, documents that have recently come to light show that the first operation of Aurora Organic Dairy, in Platteville, Colorado, apparently started out with about 70 acres of pasture for the 5,000 cows they were transitioning. Their self-serving interpretation of the regulation - "all ruminants must have access to pasture" - was that the livestock just needed to have access to pasture at some point in their life.