USDA Publishes Origin of Livestock Final Rule for Organic Dairy

A long-anticipated “origin of livestock” final rule has just been released by the UDSA.
A long-anticipated “origin of livestock” final rule has just been released by the UDSA.
(Taylor Leach)

A long-anticipated “origin of livestock” final rule has just been released by the UDSA that illustrates the uniform standards for transitioning dairy cattle to organic production. This change promotes a fairer and more competitive market for all organic dairy producers, by making sure that certified USDA organic dairy products are produced to the same consistent standard.

The USDA rule was originally proposed in 2015 but withdrawn in 2018. In late 2019, the USDA decided to reopen the comment period on the proposal.

The Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, states, “This action demonstrates the USDA’s strong commitment to America’s organic dairy farmers. The Origin of Livestock final rule provides clear and uniform standards about how and when livestock may be transitioned to organic dairy production, and how transitioned animals are managed within the organic dairy system. Now, all organic dairy livestock producers will have the confidence and certainty they are operating in a fair and competitive market.”

USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) will oversee the new rule, which in general:

  • Allows a dairy livestock operation transitioning to organic, or starting a new organic farm, to transition non-organic animals one time.
  • Prohibits organic dairies from sourcing any transitioned animals. Once a dairy is certified organic, animals must be managed as organic from the last third of gestation. Variances may be requested by small businesses for specific scenarios.

Statement From Organic Valley

Organic Valley released a statement saying they welcome the long-awaited announcement by USDA. The Origin of Livestock rule was originally published in 2015, this regulation clarifies the expectation for how dairy farms transition and source dairy cows for organic milk production.

The USDA has now clarified the Origin of Livestock to mean that a dairy operation can exercise a one-time transition event of the period of 12 months, thereafter all animals on the farm must be organic from the last third of gestation or an initial transition occurrence. The USDA requires the herd transition to be associated with a dairy operation that actively milks animals.

Organic Valley's statement shared, “The USDA’s action falls in line with the thousands of public comments supporting the agencies narrowing of permissible organic dairy transitioned approaches. Our cooperative has been a leading voice and commented in the past three comment periods and had our board chair Steve Pierson testify on the topic in 2019 in front of the U.S. House Agriculture subcommittee for Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research.”

Furthermore, they share that while the final rule represents progress, Organic Valley will continue helping government agencies understand and alleviate the impact of one provision of the final rule that could negatively impact small farm intergenerational transfers of organic dairy operations.

“Origin of livestock has been a long-standing priority for Organic Valley. Our farmers have been disadvantaged by the lack of consistency on the origin of livestock for the last 20 years,” Organic Valley Board President and farmer-member, Steve Pierson says. “This is a priority that we have led nationally and over the last seven years, and while the regulation isn’t perfect, I am encouraged that there is finally some progress from the USDA on a vital aspect of the organic program.”

More information about the Origin of Livestock rule is available at:


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