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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care June 2009

Hi Folks,

Before updating you on the recent NOSB meeting, I’d like to give a quick reminder that there is still time to vaccinate against pink eye. In southern PA, pinkeye usually hits in early July through early September. If you’re going to vaccinate for it, try to have it done by sometime in June. The vaccine needs to be given just one time, under the skin. While you can never predict how bad pinkeye may turn out to be in a given year, there always seems to be cases. Some herds get hit harder than others. While heavily parasitized weaned calves will likely be the worst hit, animals of any age can get it. The prevention is so much easier than the treatment (especially on organic farms). On conventional farms, a simple shot of oxytetracycline in the muscle will cure it while on organic farms more labor intensive treatment is usually needed.

The first week of May, I was at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Washington, DC. As Chairman of the NOSB Livestock Committee, I’d like to fill you in on livestock issues that were addressed, voted on and otherwise discussed.

First, the Board was updated by Barbara Robinson of the National Organic Program. There were 19,000 substantive comments to the proposed pasture rule. The staffers within the NOP are currently reviewing them and making changes to the proposed rule. There may be an interim final rule out this summer. Notice the term “might be”. The NOP goal is to have a final rule out by the end of the year. Many people now jokingly ask “which year?” because it has been so long.

Injectable vitamins, minerals and electrolytes

As far as the Livestock Committee actions, one main item will be of interest to all organic dairy farmers reading this. Currently, as the law is written, no injectable vitamins, minerals and electrolytes are allowed to be used on certified organic livestock. While most certifiers have “grand-fathered” their use since they always have been used, some certifiers rake these products over the coals, examining each and every possible ingredient that goes into these life enhancing products. While most certifiers that officially commented to the USDA prior to the meeting were glad that the Livestock Committee recommended allowing these products, a couple certifiers were not happy. However, reality and practicality saved the day and the Board voted 14 in favor and none opposed for the creation of a new section to the National List, to be allowed:

205.603 (g) As nutritive supplements, formulated injectable supplements of trace minerals per 205.603 (d) (2), vitamins per 205.603 (d) (3), and electrolytes per 205.603 (a) (8), with excipients per 205.603 (f), in accordance with FDA and restricted to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.

This is a MAJOR victory for hard working dairy farmers and other livestock farmers that are certified organic. Please note that the Board’s action still needs to be officially placed in the Federal Register before it is law. Gone will be the days of farmers being nit-picked to death about different brands of injectable vitamin C, CMPK or 23% calcium, etc. I felt I had to do something to stem the lack of practical reality on the part of certain certifiers, so I personally wrote the petition that is shown above. This is due to having sympathy with you and for your animals to make sure that you don’t have the whip cracked on you for such basic animal care products. While the NOSB does not have all that much power, the power we do have is to alter the National List by allowing or denying substances to be used in certified organic operations. The wording about veterinary involvement is for compliance with FDA rules. Don’t worry - a vet does not have to give the actual injection. Occasionally discussing the need for injectable vitamins and minerals with your vet will be all that is needed (and is a good thing to do generally).

Another issue that has recently come up is vaccines. At the beginning of this year, I was informed by a farmer that he could no longer use a certain vaccine (Endovac-Bovi) that he has been using for the last 10 years (he has been certified for about 5 years now). The certifier found out that the vaccine is made using genetic engineering. While the organic rule specifically states that irradiation, sewage sludge and genetically modified organisms are not allowed, vaccines are somewhat protected. In fact, the law says that vaccines made using genetic engineering can be allowed if the vaccine is allowed by the NOSB. Why the allowance for genetically engineered vaccines? The answer: since they are designed to prevent disease and preventing disease is viewed as good thing generally. Additionally, more and more vaccines are being made by genetic engineering since it is quick and the old fashioned way can take a many months. This is an important point since, God forbid, foot and mouth disease were to occur, a vaccine that would protect animals could be made really quickly using genetic engineering. Whether or not you personally believe in using vaccines, I would think that most everyone would want the ability to use them in a crisis. Moreover, it would be really pathetic if the purists in the organic sector were to say “such and such vaccine isn’t allowed because it’s made in a way that some people don’t want” – while a horrible outbreak of a new disease is wreaking havoc throughout the countryside. The Livestock Committee will be working on this vaccine topic in the coming few months. I would really like to hear your opinions about this issue. Please let me know your thoughts.

This particular Board meeting was memorable as the Board and the audience was addressed by the #2 in command at USDA, Kathleen Merrigan. For those of you who don’t know, Kathleen Merrigan was the primary author of the Organic Foods Production Act. Obviously, she knows organics and she is now in the #2 position at USDA. She spoke to us for a solid 45 minutes and then took questions from Board members and the attending audience. Representatives of certifying agencies make up the majority of the audience. Secretary Merrigan stated that about $50 million in new EQIP funds will made available to organic farmers across the country. When asked what some of the most important issues are to her, she mentioned issues surrounding the general welfare of farm animals. And you must remember that as #2 at USDA she is speaking for all of agriculture, not just organics.

She also invited audience members to meet with her at the USDA building. The 15 of us Board members got a special invitation as group to meet with her. While most readers know that President Obama’s wife and two children started an organic garden at the White House, you may not know that an organic garden was created right in front of the USDA building. Secretary Vilsack ordered the concrete to be taken out and with the help of the Rodale Institute (located in nearby Kutztown, Berks County), many tons of compost were brought in and raised vegetable beds were then planted. These crops will be donated to the needy in Washington DC. They also expect people will freely pick from the beds. The name of the garden is very appropriate - The People’s Garden. It is truly a wonderful sight to see, and is now an official sight seeing tour stop for visitors to Washington. The garden stands as a strong symbol of how far organics has come in this country.

No matter what your political leanings are, it must be realized that the current administration solidly supports organic agriculture within the bigger picture of agriculture generally. And with a supportive administration, hopefully the pasture rule will actually be released THIS year.

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

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