USDA Publishes Long-Awaited Origin of Livestock Rule

On April 5, 2022, the USDA finally published the long-awaited Origin of Livestock Rule, clarifying the provisions of 7CFR § 205.236. The Proposed Rule was introduced in April of 2015 and went through three separate comment periods, generating more than 2,600 public comments before it was finally ratified.

The final rule goes into effect today, June 6, 2022. Certified organic operations must comply with all provisions of this final rule by April 5, 2023.

What does this mean for organic livestock producers? Certified operations that began transitioning livestock before April 5, 2022 may complete that transition. All transitions must be complete by April 5, 2023. Operations that are already certified may source transitioned animals for one year until April 5, 2023. Certified operations may not source any transitioned animals after April 5, 2023.

Rule is designed to prevent operations from continuously purchasing non-organic animals and transitioning them into organic production, which has long posed risks to organic integrity.  This rule specifies that organic milk and milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation onward, with an exception for newly certified organic livestock operations.

The rule allows new operations or operations converting to organic production a one-time transition of non-organic animals to organic production. It prohibits already certified organic dairies from sourcing any transitioned animals as a means of bringing new livestock into the herd.

New operations or operations converting to organic may: (a) Purchase or raise organic animals, or (b) Transition nonorganic animals to organic production ONCE. Once an operation is certified, all animals must be organically managed from the last third of pregnancy.

Once certification is complete: (a) An operation may only source animals that have been under continuous organic management since the last third of pregnancy. (b) An operation cannot source (purchase, sell, or transfer) transitioned animals from another operation.

The USDA hopes that the new rule will harmonize the market by ensuring all organic dairy producers use the same transition practices. The new rule should create more consistency in production and certification practices and ensure that small dairies are able to compete more fairly in the organic marketplace.

The new rule also adds three new “definitions” to the organic regulations:

1.) “Organic management” is defined as: “management of a production or handling operation in compliance with all applicable provisions under this part.”

2.) “Third-year transitional crop” is defined as, “crops and forage from land included in the organic system plan of a producer’s operation that is not certified organic but is in the third year of organic management and is eligible for organic certification in one year or less.”

3.) “Transitioned animal” is defined as, “A dairy animal converted to organic milk production in accordance with § 205.236(a)(2) that has not been under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation; offspring born to a transitioned animal that, during its last third of gestation, consumes third-year transitional crops; and offspring born during the one-time transition exception that themselves consume third-year transitional crops.”

Some small businesses may be granted limited exceptions to the new rule by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator if they meet the following criteria:

  1. The certified operation selling the transitioned animals is part of a bankruptcy proceeding or a forced sale  
  2. The certified operation has become insolvent, must liquidate its animals, and as a result has initiated a formal process to cease its operations; or
  3. The certified operation wishes to conduct an intergenerational transfer of transitioned animals to an immediate family member.

All requests for an exception must be submitted to an operation’s certifying agent who must send the request to the AMS within ten business day. The request must then be approved by the AMS.

To read more about the proposed rule, visit the AMS webpage for links to a publicly available webinar explaining the rule’s provisions, a helpful infographic, and a link to the Federal Register Notice, here:

Training for certifying agents and livestock operations on the new rule will be available in the USDA’s Organic Integrity Learning Center (OILC) later this year.