I think if you asked the average city person how cows in an organic milk operation are tended, somewhere in the answer the words “pasture” or “hay” or “grass” or “meadow,” if not “free range,” would appear.
None of those words are necessarily accurate under current U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. A loophole big enough to drive a cattle truck through has existed in USDA rules; it allows giant corporate feedlots to sell their milk as certified organic even though their Holsteins may have rarely sniffed a blade of grass.
The current law says organic dairy cattle must have “access to pasture,” but that phrase has not been interpreted as grazing in the green fields of America. Milk can be called organic if the herd ate organic feed. The Agriculture Department, after eight years of pressure from smaller organic milk producers, is finally reacting by proposing a rule change that would require organic livestock to graze at least 120 days per year. No hormones, antibiotics or pesticide-treated grains would be allowed. The idea is that about 30 percent of the cows’ diet would come from grazing.