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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care June 2008

Hi Folks,

The USDA National Organic Standards Board held a public meeting May 20th - 22nd. Since I was there as a Board member and Chair of the Livestock Committee, I figure you may enjoy a report. The official transcripts are usually released about 2-3 weeks afterwards which give a word-for-word account of all happenings during those 3 days. Therefore, my report is only a summary and from my point of view. I am in my 4th year of a 5 year term and though I haven’t reported on any previous meetings in the Moo News before, I figure you might be interested occasionally.

The agenda items that the Livestock Committee submitted for voting were: use of fenbendazole as a wormer for ruminants, continuation of the use of synthetic methionine in poultry rations, and the recommendation for how to possibly feed fish meal and fish oil to fish for the developing certified organic aquaculture industry. The agenda items up for discussion only (no vote to be taken) included issues about net pens for fish (locations in waterways, manure/nutrient management, biodiversity, etc).

The NOSB relies a lot on public input and we listened to about 8 hours worth over the 3 days. Individuals commenting have 5 minutes to talk about anything they wish in regards to organic community items. Previous to sitting on the Board, I used to give public comment regarding the need for the medicines that relieve pain and suffering in organic livestock (now allowed, as of Dec. 12, 2007 : xylazine, butorphanol, flunixin, furosemide, poloxalene, etc).

An update was given by the National Organic Program (the regulatory branch of the USDA). The proposed pasture regulations are still exactly just that – proposed - and being worked on internally at the USDA. In my first year on the Board in 2005, I helped to craft the Guidelines for pasture policy that emerged from the NOSB. This stated that ruminants should graze pasture for at least 120 days of pasture of which 30% of the ration is from fresh green growing pasture during the growing season. (note that the NOSB can only recommend and only use words like “should” and not “must” or “shall”.) So far that USDA has not come up with official regulatory action. Their update said that the new pasture regulation, whenever it will come out, will be “pleasing to everyone”. This makes one really wonder what it will be. The pasture rule is still being reviewed by government lawyers, government agencies and will be available for comment from Congress for 60 days once it is released. It will also be available for comment from the general public. One reason that it is taking so long to emerge from the NOP is that it is considered a major rule change and therefore the Office of Management and Budget as well as the Office of General Council must weigh in on it. It is truly amazing how tortured the process is to legally require cows to graze pastures as they were originally created to do. Why is it so hard to legislate biological reality when it seems that many brand new scientific discoveries become quietly allowed without much input?

…Anyhow, back to the meeting.

The Livestock Committee, in a publicly posted document of April 4th 2008 , recommended that fenbendazole be allowed to treat worm infestations in ruminants when methods acceptable to organics have failed and there is written documentation by the herd veterinarian of an infestation. Fenbendazole is the active ingredient of Safeguard® crumbles. The entire Board passed the recommendation by a vote of 14 in favor and zero opposed. Therefore, once the NOP amends the Federal Register, fenbendazole will be allowed for parasite treatment – but not before then. Currently, ivermectin is the only allowed wormer. However, it is the intent of the NOSB to remove ivermectin once fenbendazole is fully allowed. This is mainly because ivermectin seriously harms the dung beetle populations.

The Livestock Committee defeated (zero in favor, 5 opposed) a petition to allow synthetic methionine to be used indefinitely in organic poultry rations. It was due to be removed from use in organics this October 2008. However, we did vote to allow a limited two year extension the organic poultry industry would cease to exist as it currently feeds its birds without synthetic methionine. And we certainly want to give the industry a chance to wean themselves from being dependent on it. A little background on methionine: it is an essential amino acid that poultry require in their rations. Traditionally, it is obtained by birds pecking the earth for grubs and insects which contain natural methionine. The conventional poultry industry developed the use of synthetic methionine so that birds can be kept indoors continuously and fed strictly controlled rations of corn and beans supplemented with amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The organic poultry industry closely resembles the conventional industry except that organic corn and soybeans are used, along with the amino acids (including synthetic methionine) vitamins, minerals. But organics is not about relying on crutches of synthetic inputs. And, by regulation, organic poultry are to have “access to the outdoors” which means they could get at least some of their methionine requirement from bugs. Additionally, the Organic Food Production Act (the law Congress passed and President HW Bush signed in 1990), the natural behavior of animals is to be encouraged. So, like the “Let Them Eat Grass!” campaign for organic cows, there should be a “Let Them Peck Earth!” campaign for organic poultry. The Livestock Committee also took into account the fact that high methionine corn is starting to be grown, natural fermentation product methionine is possible and there are commercial industries starting to make insect and worm meal that has natural methionine. That poultry have “access to the outdoors” is about as vague as the current ruminant pasture - that ruminants must have “access to pasture”. Much like the heated debates that have been taking place to strengthen the weakly worded “access to pasture” for ruminants, the public should voice their opinions to strengthen the weakly worded “access to outdoors” for poultry. The Livestock Committee will be working in this direction and we would like to have your opinion. The Livestock Committee will also be taking up other issues of animal care and well being, just like the conventional dairy industry is doing. This may include certain limits at the herd level for % lame, % hock lesions, % dirty udders – and then monitoring how quickly situations are corrected. This would also include issues such as sufficient bedding to keep animals clean or sufficient space so animals can lie down without touching other animals. Other organic livestock species issues (hogs, poultry, sheep and goats) are open for discussion as well.

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