Monday, June 7, 2010

Livestock Organic Certification

There are a few good questions today about organic livestock.  Most of these questions are from the Guidebook for Organic Certification along with a few comments and Missouri information.

Q.  I am a dairy farmer interested in organic production. What are the rules for starting an organic dairy herd?
     Dairy cows must be managed organically for one year prior to the production and sale of organic milk. Organic management includes feed, health care, living conditions, access to pasture when seasonally appropriate, and record keeping.
     In October 2005, Congress amended the Organic Foods Production Act to allow dairy farmers to use, in addition to certified organic feed, their own feed that was grown on land between 24 months and 36 months past the use of prohibited substances, or in its third year of transition. This feed cannot be purchased from off the farm, but must be raised on the operation requesting organic certification.
     All dairy animals must be managed organically regarding health care, record keeping, and living conditions for the entire transitional year. Once the farm has started their transition to organic for
the milking dairy cows, all young stock and dry cows must also be managed organically.
     Once the farmer begins to sell organic milk, after 12 months of either transitional or organic feed, only certified organic feeds are to be fed to all current or future organic production animals.
     Since 2002, the regulations that deal with replacement dairy animals have been clarified and changed, so the introduction of new dairy animals into an existing organic dairy herd depends on the method the farmer used to originally obtain organic certification. Talk to your organic certification agency for specific details. At the time of updating this Guidebook, the National Organic Program has stated that they are developing new guidelines for organic dairy replacement animals, but these have not yet been released for public comment.
     Livestock that have been removed from organic management are no longer eligible to transition to organic production. An example of non-allowed practices are calves being born to an organic mother, but raised non-organically for 8 months and then transitioned back to organic for one year before freshening.
     Bulls on the farm and those who have supplied semen for artificial insemination do not need to be managed organically.
     In order for dairy animals (cows, sheep, goats) to be sold as organic meat, they must meet the same requirements as all organic slaughter animals. They must have been born from an organic mother who was managed organically during the last third of gestation. Transitioned organic dairy animals can produce organic milk and give birth to organic slaughter animals, but they themselves can never be sold as organic meat.

Q.  Is it true that I can’t use antibiotics on my animals?
Yes. Antibiotic use is not allowed as part of organic management. No animal that has been treated with any antibiotic at any time in its life can be an organic slaughter animal. No antibiotics can be used on milk animals during transition or in the entire dairy herd (including replacements) after certification except as noted below. If you used antibiotics before you began your organic transition, these animals may be transitioned to organic. However, any animal that is past transition and is treated with antibiotics for any reason must be put into conventional production or shipped.

Q.  What happens if my cow gets really sick?
Organic livestock systems focus on preventative care to avoid situations where antibiotics are needed. However, it is mandatory that an animal not be neglected or untreated to preserve organic status. If antibiotics or other prohibited medicines are needed to save an animal’s life, they must be given and the animal taken out of organic production.

Q.  Can I vaccinate my animals?
Yes. As long as the vaccination is veterinarian recommended in your geographical area and does not contain ingredients prohibited by the National Organic Standards or the National List. Currently, there are no GMO vaccines allowed. Verify with your certification agency that the vaccines you are using or plan to use are approved.

Q.  What kinds of minerals, supplements, feed inoculants and healt care products can I use on organic animals?
     All natural minerals are allowed, as long as they do not contain non-approved additives and are not listed as prohibited on the National List. A few minerals (such as arsenic and strychnine) are listed on the National List and are not allowed in organic production.
     Health supplements and medical treatments must be reviewed for ingredient compliance with the National Lists. Alcohol, iodine, aspirin, electrolytes, glucose and hydrogen peroxide are examples of allowed inputs. Those who produce supplements for organic livestock may state they are “approved for organic production,” but you should always check with your certification agency before using an unfamiliar product.
     Agricultural products present in health products can be natural without synthetic additives (such as aloe vera without a preservative), but any product fed routinely as a feed must contain only certified organic agricultural ingredients. This would include organic soy oil used as a feed dust suppressant, for example.
     All agricultural substances in regularly fed supplements or feed inoculants must be certified organic. There must be no prohibited ingredients or genetically modified organisms in inoculants or supplements, including soy oil and molasses. All agricultural ingredients in an organic livestock feed listed on a label must be certified organic. If a product is used as a health product, and not as a feed, it can be natural, with no prohibited ingredients or GMOs. An example would be feeding eggs to calves for scours. If the eggs are fed routinely on a daily basis, they would need to be organic. If they are fed only when a calf has scours, then they could be non-organic eggs. However, if organic eggs are available, these are preferred. Check with your certification agency for more clarification on their policies.

Q.  Are there requirements for organic pasture management?
The management of pasture is to be included in the Organic System Plan, and is considered a crop like any other on the farm. The management of the pasture should not lead to soil erosion or water contamination. The health and vitality of the pasture should be sufficient to provide the 30% dry matter intake required for the entire herd. Irrigation can be used, if available, to encourage healthy regrowth of the pasture during the season, and the pasture should be managed in a way that minimizes the spread of diseases or parasites among the animals grazing those pastures. If there is not sufficient pasture to meet this rule, maintain the health of the animal and the vitality of the pasture, then improved pasture management or a lower stocking density should be put in place.

Q.  My neighbor says he hasn’t used pesticides on his hay. Can I feed it to my certified organic cows?
Any feed fed to organic livestock must be certified organic. If your neighbor gets his hay certified or you rent his ground and get it certified as part of your organic plan, then you can feed it.

Q.  Do I need to use a certified organic slaughtering facility in order to label fresh or frozen meat as organic?
Yes. You can have a local slaughterhouse certified as part of your organic certification, or use an organic slaughterhouse. Fruitland American Meats in Fruitland MO just north of Cape Girardeau is an organically certified slaughter facility.  You can also sell the products to your customers as organic live animals and have them use any slaughterhouse of their choosing. Poultry is an exception. You have the choice of slaughtering poultry on-farm yourself, and can have this approved as part of your organic certification application. You cannot label any meat as organic unless it has been processed in a certified organic facility.  NOTE:  A certified organic slaughter facility does not have to slaughter only certified organic animals.  Many facilities across the country will slaughter the organic livestock first thing in the morning since the materials used the clean the facility are in compliance with the organic standards.  They will then move on to processing the non-certified animals.  However, the facility will need to be in compliance with all the organic standards and apply for certification each year.

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