September 23, 2021

In The Midst Of Organic Dairy Market Upheaval, Gillibrand Urges USDA Secretary Vilsack To Support Small- And Mid-Sized Organic Dairy Farmers

Loopholes in Organic Farming Rules Put New York’s Small Organic Farmers at Financial Disadvantage

 U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is announcing her push to support small- and mid-sized organic dairy farmers facing market loss following news that Horizon Organic, a subsidiary of multinational food conglomerate Danone, plans to terminate milk contracts with 89 farmers in New York, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire by August 2022, leaving these small farmers without buyers. The decision to abandon smaller and more dispersed family farms underscores the long overdue need to close existing loopholes in the rules governing how livestock are transitioned to organic and strengthen enforcement of the pasture rule, particularly for large-scale complex dairies.

Gillibrand is calling on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to close existing loopholes in the rules governing how livestock is transitioned to be classified as organic and strengthen enforcement of the pasture rule, particularly for large-scale complex dairies. The Origin of Livestock Rule would help close loopholes that put New York organic farmers at a severe financial disadvantage. The loopholes have contributed to the oversupply of organic milk in the market by allowing large-scale producers to expand herd sizes quickly through continual transition of conventional animals in and out of organic management. She also called on the Agriculture Department to use any tools at their disposal to quickly support the farmers affected by Danone’s decision.

“For years, organic dairy farmers have faced a significant competitive disadvantage against large-scale producers that threatens their livelihoods,” said Senator Gillibrand. “New York is home to more than 3,000 dairy farms and they serve as an economic cornerstone to many local and rural communities. The USDA must prioritize the Origin of Livestock Rule and close loopholes that favor large-scale, complex producers and put our small farmers in jeopardy.”

The organic dairy industry is an important economic engine in the Northeast but, for years, organic dairy farmers in the region have been put at a significant competitive disadvantage, shaking consumer confidence in the organic label. The Origin of Livestock Rule, first initiated in 2015, would close loopholes that have allowed large-scale producers in some states to expand herd sizes quickly through continual transition of conventional animals in and out of organic management. The USDA’s ongoing delay in finalizing this rule, which continues to enjoy widespread support within the sector, has contributed to the oversupply of organic milk in the market, placed the integrity of the organic label at risk, and kept farmers in our states at a severe financial disadvantage.

The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, which was signed into law on December 20, 2019, included an explicit congressional directive for USDA to finalize the Origin of Livestock Rule by July 17, 2020, a directive still unmet.  On July 12, 2021, for the third time in over six years, a comment period on the proposed rule closed, and Gillibrand urged USDA to now issue a final rule that reflects the thousands of comments received since 2015, meets the intent of the Organic Foods Production Act, and fulfills consumer expectations, as soon as possible.  This action, combined with increased and consistent enforcement of existing organic regulations like the pasture rule, will help restore the level playing field that farmers in the Northeast region require.

For the full letter, please click here.