Organic farms in 53 out of 58 counties in California are set to produce "faked," cheapened organic meat and dairy products in the first quarter of 2014.
In the face of a historic drought, California's organic standards have been cut in half. Instead of requiring livestock to graze on nutrient-rich grass for four months, the standards will be slashed to accommodate drought conditions. During the drought, livestock will only be required to graze for two months, allowing farmer's to bring in emergency feed for their livestock, which scientifically cheapens the nutritive, organic standards.
USDA slashes organic standards in half for organic farms in California
The US Department of Agriculture has already issued the rule changes, which reduce organic standards practically by half. The USDA organic seal is basically being watered down in the process, stamped on beef and dairy products that will be half as nutritious as they once were.
The USDA now states that "organic ruminant livestock producers... are not required to graze or provide dry matter intake from pasture during this time period. Producers may reduce their 2014 grazing season by the number of days that correspond to this time period in their grazing plan."
As the standards are lowered, farmers may do whatever it takes just to get their livestock through the drought, feeding them questionable grains that lack the variability of nutrition found in free-range grasses. The result: Beef and dairy processed in California in 2014 may not be as whole and nutritious as it once was. Possibly, according to USDA's variances, normally grass-fed livestock may feed on virtually no grass at all, if the grasses can't make a comeback this spring.
Inconsistent, volatile standards create untrustworthiness in organic food
The problem is neither the weather nor the drought. The problem lies in the cheapening of government standards to create shortcuts. The end result produces untrustworthy standards that are practically lying to consumers. The cheapened standards give the free market a deceptive short cut to solve their problems. A consistent standard is not kept across state lines. USDA organic labels that are really just downright lies may get slapped on food products anyway. If organic standards are to be set, then they should be improved upon, not cheapened -- even in the face of drought.
But that may be easier said than done, with February and March grasses withered and dried up across multiple counties in California. What kind of mega watering operation would it take to keep the grasses abounding? Could grasses be brought in from other states to the livestock? Out of 58 counties, 53 have been declared natural disaster areas due to the drought that hit hard in December. At the same time, it was the California Certified Organic Farmers and Marin Organic Certified Agriculture groups that requested the USDA to lower the standards.
"It's huge because we still don't have pasture for cows to graze on," Albert Straus of the Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma told The Guardian. "We lost at least a month to a month-and-a-half of pasture."
Truly organic grass-fed beef provides higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
It seems that feeding grains to livestock instead of feeding them highly nutritious grasses may be the only alternative, but experts hope that the USDA rule changes are only temporary.
"It's a necessary evil," said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. "We'll support this variance if that's the only alternative."
"Grass-fed dairy or beef has higher levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6, which is extremely important in human health," said Cummins. "There's no doubt that feeding grain to animals that aren't supposed to be eating grain is not good for them, not good for the environment and not good for consumers."
Federal aid packages, so far topping $1.2 billion, have been brought in to solve the problem, but the money isn't fixing the problem. The drought conditions can't be stopped. Rain can't be bought. In this reality, the organic standards will be slashed until further notice, until normal conditions can be met that will allow free-range livestock to feed on nutritious grasses once again.