Collateral Damage: Organic Farmers Being Squeezed Out

For Immediate Release

The Cornucopia Institute
Contact: 

Mark Kastel, 608.625.2042

Collateral Damage: Organic Farmers Being Squeezed Out

Corporate Takeover Threatens Farmers, Mission

CORNUCOPIA, Wis. - Groups representing
organic farmers and their customers are calling on consumers to help save the organic
industry by exclusively patronizing dairies, and other brands, that uphold the
spirit and letter of the federal organic law.  They claim the acquisition
of major brands by corporate agribusiness, and their dependence on factory
farms, threatens to force families off the land and deprive consumers of the
superior nutritional food they think they are paying for.

"This
could be the end of the organic industry as we know it," said Mark A.
Kastel, codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, widely recognized as the
organic industry's most aggressive farming watchdog.  The Institute
reports that the proliferation of industrial-scale dairies has bloated the
organic milk supply, inflated the price of feed for dairy cows, and resulted in
a financial crisis for family farmers, even as the market continues to
grow-defying the general economic downturn. 

The
Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute announced today that it has filed formal
legal complaints, seeking USDA enforcement, against two more operators of giant
industrial dairies.  The farm policy research group claims they are
"masquerading as organic."  Cornucopia also announced that it
has released an update to its popular organic scorecard helping consumers make
informed choices in the marketplace in selecting dairy brands that represent
the highest level of organic practices. 

The
dairy segment, second only behind fresh fruits and vegetables, represents
nearly $4 billion worth of annual revenue or about 15 to 20% of the organic
industry.

For
eight years, participants in the organic community-farmers, consumers,
retailers, and other stakeholders-have fought the industrialization of
organic milk by giant corporations and factory farms milking as many as 10,000
animals.  Although the National Organic Standards Board, the expert panel
set up by Congress to advise the Secretary of Agriculture, has voted to crack
down on industry scofflaws five times since 2000, Bush administration officials
have refused to act.

"This
cynical corporate takeover of organic farming, an agriculture segment that is
held in high regard by consumers, resulting in a highly successful and growing
market, has been aided and abetted by the gross disregard of the USDA's
enforcement responsibilities," said Merrill Clark, a certified organic livestock
producer and former member of the USDA's National Organic Standards Board.

Cornucopia's
legal complaints to the USDA targeted Phoenix-based Shamrock Farms, which
operates an industrial dairy milking approximately 11,000 cows in the desert 54
miles south of their plant, and the Rockview Farms Dairy of Downey, California,
the operator of another giant industrial dairy in the desert north of Las
Vegas, Nevada.

"When
Cornucopia staff visited Shamrock's operation we found inadequate,
overgrazed pasture adjacent to their milking facility, and we were told by
Shamrock employees that the confined cows had not been out in weeks,"
Kastel stated.  Federal organic regulations require that cows be grazed.

"Not
only do these confinement operations create an unfair competitive playing
field, discriminating against all the family farmers who work hard to fulfill
both the letter and intent of the national organic standards, they also are
denying the consumer the extra healthful nutrients that university studies have
verified as being present in the milk of cows that graze fresh green
grass," said Kathie Arnold, president of the Northeast Organic Dairy
Producers Alliance.

Cornucopia's
filing of a legal action against Rockview Farms Dairy chronicled similar
alleged violations of organic livestock management rules.  Rockview Farms,
of Downey, California,
produces their organic milk at a giant industrial farm in the Nevada
desert near Amargosa Valley, just northwest of Las Vegas.  Its milk is marketed under
the Good Heart label. 

"Just
like Shamrock, Rockview's phony-baloney organic farm primarily confines their
cattle in a massive feedlot milking both organic and conventional cows,"
Kastel affirmed.  "This outfit is everything that organics
isn't -- in addition to confining their cattle, Rockview has been accused of
environmental damage and even irrigates some of their land with waste products
from a municipal sewage plant."

One
way that Cornucopia is fighting unethical corporate players like Shamrock,
Rockview, and the industry's largest dairy, Dean Foods, which markets
organic milk under the Horizon label, is to educate and engage consumers.

Cornucopia
just updated their organic dairy scorecard, which ranks every brand in the
country-large and small-based on their ethical approach to their
milk production.  It contains 107 organic brands covering fluid milk,
yogurt, cheese, butter, and ice cream.

"We
have encouraged our 900,000 members and collaborators to use Cornucopia's
research when making their purchasing decisions for organic dairy
products," said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers
Association (OCA).  In the past, OCA has called on its membership to
boycott the Horizon brand and milk produced by Aurora Dairy, the nation's
largest manufacturer of private-label organic milk.

"We
are carefully examining Cornucopia's new findings and are likely to ramp up our
pressure campaign to force these bad actors to change their business models or
to exit the industry," Cummins added.

The
good news for consumers, according to the Cornucopia study, is that 85% of all
name-brand marketers are respecting both the letter and spirit of the federal
organic law.

Besides
farmers concerned with their livelihoods, consumers have also voiced dissatisfaction
with the USDA's lack of enforcement by the alleged organic scofflaws.

A
growing body of scientific literature clearly indicates that legitimately
produced organic milk, from pasture-based animals, offers distinct nutritional
advantages.  This year Newcastle
University reported that
milk from grazing cows on organic farms contains significantly higher amounts
of beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins.

According
to Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Newcastle University
study, their research "clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows
graze naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the
differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk."

"I know I'm not the only consumer who
would feel ripped off to know that when I spend extra money on organic milk for
my family that it comes from giant factory farms," said Andrea
Rae of San Diego, Calif.

The
Cornucopia Institute's updated organic dairy survey and scorecard can be
found at www.cornucopia.org.  And
photo galleries containing images of the Rockview and Shamrock factory farm
dairies can also be viewed on the Cornucopia web page.

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The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy, and economic development, our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives.

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