Organic Broadcaster

New label assures integrity of grass-fed farming

By Melissa Hughes, Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative

This seal will soon identify dairy products that meet standards for grass-fed production under a new add-on certification to USDA organic certification.

Earlier this year we joined with our friends at Maple Hill to launch the Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program and certification mark: a new, third-party certification that creates a universal definition and verification of grass-fed organic farming standards and products. Today, certifiers are training to uphold the integrity of grass-fed organic dairy farming through the new program. And, in just a couple of months, consumers will start buying dairy products featuring the new seal that helps ensure they are getting what they pay for when they buy grass-fed products.

When the journey toward this grass-fed organic seal started years ago, one thing was for sure: any seal created to protect the integrity of grass-based livestock farming must have the USDA organic program at its core. We all wanted to empower the farms and certifiers that are already on the ground, with mud on their boots, ensuring organic standards. Anything created had to work for the farmers, the certifiers, and, ultimately, the people buying and drinking grass-fed dairy.

From the start, the Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program was designed to use the same certifiers and farmers that are already going through the certified USDA organic process. The program currently has about a dozen USDA organic certifiers ready to do inspections and verifications on nearly 400 farms. This grass-fed organic certification process is incorporated into the regularly scheduled USDA organic inspections—it’s not an entirely new process.

The Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program is not run or endorsed by the government. It is not verified by the USDA, and is also not beholden to the USDA. Instead, the program and certification mark are governed by Organic Plus Trust Inc. (OPT), a public benefit entity created to advance organic agriculture. This program is administered by EarthClaims LLC on behalf of OPT to ensure unbiased and transparent management and distribution of the certification mark. The certification mark is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and will only appear on packaged products that take part in this end-to-end certification process.

The program is voluntary and open to all interested organic farmers and organic. It creates a universal definition and verification of grass-fed organic farming standards and grass-fed organic products that were, until now, non-existent. We believe that pasture-based, grass-fed farming deserves to be protected as a way of life, and that attempts to water down the meaning of grass-fed creates instability for family-scale farms that are currently successful in their grass-fed farming businesses.

Grass-fed organic dairy should always be built with the USDA organic certification as a base requirement. This program’s foundation was built with farmers at the center of the process. Any certification needs to work for farmers and shouldn’t be an extra burden to already stressed farm families. The Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program is designed to keep farmers farming and give consumers what they are looking for. There are new requirements for farms and brands to meet, but they are all achievable and clearly set out in the program. This program will help grow and build the foundation of grass-based farming with integrity and transparency.

Balancing between what will work for farmers and certifiers is no simple task. That is why the certification focuses on farming practices like time on pasture, forages, and dry matter intake. And, after balancing between farmers and certifiers, OPT is also focusing on creating a seal that meets industry and consumer demand.

Program Details
To be certified under the new OPT standard, dairy cows must be fed a grass diet, with zero-grain, and given plenty of pasture for grazing. Any farm claiming grass-fed organic certification must first be certified organic to participate in the program. The Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program criteria also require all animals receive 60% of their dry matter intake from pasture over at least a 150-day grazing season.

This program requirement is double the dry matter intake minimums in the organic standard, but any grass-fed claim needs to be set apart as a distinctly different type of organic dairy farming. Rotational grazing, pasture management, and preventive care are all essential parts of organic dairy farming, but grass-fed takes those skills to the next level.

And what makes grass-based farming distinctly different shows up in the milk. People can literally taste the difference. Current research on the benefits of grass-fed dairy products shows higher levels of omega-3s and higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). The difference is there. Grass-fed dairy buyers are listening and looking for the difference that grass-fed organic dairy provides.

Organic buyers are demanding different animal care and diet standards for farm animals. In fact, we’ve seen 300% growth in the organic grass-fed dairy industry just since 2015. Stores are looking for dairy products that bring people to the store, and right now grass-fed organic dairy is doing just that. People are voting with their dollars, and we believe they will vote for a verifiable standard for grass-fed that is trustworthy and meets their high expectations.

The Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program is unique from other grass-fed certifications in that it also requires a full supply chain verification to use the certification mark, creating a much higher level of transparency. The farm and dairy processor are certified to ensure grass-fed milk is segregated and authentic all the way to the packaged grass-fed dairy product.

Although the first two organic dairy brands to join the program were Organic Valley and Maple Hill, Natural by Nature is already committed to using the seal as well. We expect 50 different dairy products will feature the seal on packages by the end of this year.

The Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program is built with organic as its foundation. Organic farmers focused on grass-fed dairy deserve to have a standard that protects their way of farming. People who buy grass-fed dairy deserve to have a transparent standard for the grass-fed organic products they buy for their families. The new grass-fed organic livestock program creates higher standards on the farm that will help farmers deliver what the market demands.

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Melissa Hughes is Chief Mission Officer at Organic Valley.


From the May | June 2019 Issue

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