The Agriculture Department, under pressure from lawmakers and the organic industry, finally updated its Origin of Livestock rule for organic dairy yesterday.

The rule gives new or transitioning organic producers a one-time pass to convert their non-organic animals to organic milk production. It also prohibits organic dairies from sourcing any transitioned animals — a restriction created to prevent dairy operations from using recently-transitioned animals to bypass the one-time transition period restrictions.

"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," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release. "Now, all organic dairy livestock producers will have the confidence and certainty they are operating in a fair and competitive market."

Last fall, 13 members of the House and Senate sent a letter to the USDA, urging the agency to tighten the rule after multinational food company Danone told 89 farmers in the region that it would terminate their milk contracts by August 2022. The legislators also said large-scale producers in other states were exploiting a loophole in the rule to quickly increase their herd sizes by "transitioning conventional animals in and out of organic management."

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For his part, Danone North America Vice President of Government and Public Affairs Chris Adamo said the rule would "ensure integrity across organic dairy and apply equitable standards to all organic dairy farmers."

Johanna Mirenda, farm policy director for the Organic Trade Association, said the new rule has "wide support across the organic industry" and that the group was "extremely pleased" to see the new regulation. In a statement, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said , "Finally, family-run organic farms will not be harmed by unfair loopholes in USDA’s livestock rules."

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