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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care December 2009

Hi Folks,

This past month has been extremely busy with the National Organic Standards Board meeting in Washington, DC and then producer meetings in Oregon and California as well as two excellent trainings with Mid Western Bio-Ag (MBA). The MBA training was intensive and refreshed me with soil science (my major subject of study back in college) as well as to evaluate dairy rations and feeds – and the direct link between biologically thriving soils, feeds and cows. I will keep you updated as Mid Western Bio-Ag sets up an east coast branch in the Lancaster county region.

The NOSB meeting was held on Nov. 3-5, with many livestock issues being voted on. This was my 3rd year as the Chair of the Livestock Committee as well as my 5th and final year on the Board. Due to various issues that have come up over the last year with materials that organic farmers have commonly used, there were a bunch of issues that were settled at the Board level.

Also - USDA Undersecretary Avelos came and greeted the Board. The first thing he said was that he had just signed the pasture rule and that it was sent out of the USDA building to go through the legal reviews by the Office of General Council and the Office of Management and Budget. It will likely take 60 – 120 days for this process to finish. No one in the organic community knows what the new rule will look like yet, but we have been told that there will be dramatic changes to the pasture rules, not just tweaking around the edges. It may go into effect immediately when released (due to the length of time that has gone by), so hopefully you all have been getting ready for potential changes and do whatever is needed to change to your systems to meet the new law.

Perhaps the most significant issue at this NOSB meeting for the Livestock Committee - and for the health of Livestock in general - was about what types of vaccines can be used. This was initiated by a farmer’s call to me at the very beginning of the year stating that a certain vaccine he had been using for the last 5 years was now to be not allowed since it was made from genetically engineered materials. This started a very long and drawn out process which concluded with the Board voting on a recommendation to alter the current law. The new recommendation basically says that vaccines made by non-excluded methods (not genetically engineered) must be used if commercially available. Therefore, if conventional vaccines are not available, then a genetically engineered vaccine could be used. It will soon be readily apparent that your certifiers will now be reviewing vaccines more closely to make sure they are not genetically engineered. If they find one which is, you will need to prove to them that no conventionally produced vaccine is produced for the disease prevention you want. If no conventional vaccine exists for that prevention, then the genetically engineered one could be used. The Board voted 11 Yes and 2 No for this recommendation. Remember that this is a recommendation and will need to go through the approval process at USDA prior to the law actually changing.

Another materials issue includes xylazine (Rompun), which is used to sedate animals for various procedures. Currently it is written to be “allowed only for emergencies”. The new recommendation takes out the “emergency only” restriction so that it can be used for common procedures as dehorning older animals and the like. The Board voted 13 Yes and 0 No.

Another materials clarification is for chlorhexidine (Nolvasan), a very useful antiseptic which could help decrease the need for antibiotics by keeping wounds and infections cleaner. Currently it is only allowed for surgical uses and as an alternative teat dip. The Board voted 13 Yes
and 0 No to allow it for common medical uses as well. Both xylazine and chlorhexidine are already allowed now, but their expanded uses as recommended by the Board need to go through the approval process at USDA prior to the law actually changing.

A clarification of excipients (as a group) was also passed by the Board with 13 Yes and 0 No. This recommendation seeks to help certifiers stay focused on the active ingredients of formulas instead of becoming bogged down by looking through a microscope at minor inactive ingredients. This will likely impact salves, ointments, lotions, sprays, etc such that they are reviewed for the main reason you use them instead of prohibiting them due to a minor ingredient that helps keep the solution form separating while sitting on your shelf.

A petitioned material, eprinomectin, was voted down by the Board 0 Yes and 13 No to be allowed as a wormer. Why? Because there already exists a very close cousin (ivermectin) on the National List.

We also passed the final recommendation to enable aquaculture (fish) to come into the certified organic family. This recommendation was focused on clams, oysters, scallops and the like. It passed the Board with 11 yes and 2 No.

Finally, the Animal Welfare document, which has essentially been two years in the making, was passed by the Board with 13 Yes and 0 No. It was significantly re-worded due to public comments made at the meeting and those that were written and sent in. The most significant changes will be for organic poultry production in that there are clearer rules described for their living conditions. However, space requirements for all species (cows, hogs, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits) for times when they are not on actual pasture were not finalized and will likely be completed by the spring meeting. Tail docking of cows and pigs will be prohibited. Rooting areas for pigs will be required. De-beaking will be prohibited for poultry, but the less traumatic beak tipping will be allowed. Farm plans to monitor and evaluate internal parasite pressure will now be required. Additionally, identification of all animals on the farm and those that left the farm will be required as well as to state the reasons for leaving. Health problems and treatments will need to be identified as well. The thinking of the Livestock Committee was that most operations already will comply with the recommendations and that only the ones at the far extreme will need to change to comply. The animal welfare regulation also ensures the organic consumer - the person you produce for and who pays the premiums that you receive - that there is an increased sense of animal care on organic farms.

While I have been oftentimes overwhelmed by the workload of the NOSB over the past 5 years (while also being in active clinical vet practice and traveling to give invited lectures), I feel gratified that I could be part of the public process in our country to help change things, hopefully for the better! And if by chance the NOSB recommendations have made it easier for you to take better care of your animals, then I feel that I have contributed in a meaningful way. Only time will tell.

Have a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year!

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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