For Immediate Release
Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
Conventional Cattle on Factory Dairies Producing "Organic" Milk
Illegal Practice Damaging Family Farmers and Defrauding Consumers
CORNUCOPIA, WI - A Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, The Cornucopia Institute,
announced this week that it is filing a formal legal complaint in an attempt to
immediately halt the USDA from allowing factory farms producing
"organic" milk from bringing conventional dairy cattle onto their farms.
Cornucopia claims the practice, which places family-scale farmers at a
competitive disadvantage, is explicitly prohibited in the federal regulations
governing the organic industry.
Conventional replacement dairy calves, typically bought at auctions,
likely receive antibiotics, toxic insecticides and parasiticides as well as
conventional feed during their first year of life before being
"converted" to organics-all practices strictly prohibited in
"Real organic farmers don't buy replacement heifers," said
Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia
Institute. "Real organic farmers sell [surplus] heifers."
Demonstrably lower levels of stress, superior health and improved
vitality of the cows separates authentic organic dairy farms from factory farms
masquerading as organic, according to the farm policy research group.
"In the factory farm model, the animals are pushed for such high
production that, just like in the conventional confinement model, after as few
as 1 to 2 years they are so sick, or they are not healthy enough to breed, that
they are slaughtered," Kastel clarified. "Organic cows are
generally so healthy, and live such long lives, that many of the baby calves
born can be sold to other farmers, creating an alternative revenue stream for
"We have very healthy
said Dave Minar, an organic dairy farmer from New Prague, Minnesota. A
calf on Minar's farm stays with its mother for 6-8 weeks after its birth.
The calves also become acclimated to the milking parlor (as its mother comes in
to be milked every day) and "they are building antibodies when
nursing," Minar added.
Reportedly, because of the illegal practice of bringing conventional
heifers onto organic farms, many organic producers cannot receive a premium
when selling their surplus certified organic calves and heifers.
Policy experts ask the question as to how federal bureaucrats, starting
during the Bush administration, could have possibly blessed a practice that is
explicitly banned in the USDA federal organic standards.
Former USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Chairman Jim
Riddle, currently with the University of Minnesota, states, "To allow the
continuous introduction of conventional heifers onto organic farms is contrary
to a holistic, systems-based approach; plus, it allows animals that may have
been given antibiotics or hormones, fed genetically engineered feed, or
consumed slaughter by-products [to be brought onto organic farms]."
All the practices referenced by Riddle are banned in the organic standards.
The current federal livestock standards (§205.236
Origin of Livestock) state: "Once an entire, distinct herd has been
converted to organic production, all dairy animals shall be under organic
management from the last third of gestation." Meaning, before the
calf is even born, it must be managed organically.
New York farmer Kathie Arnold, a recognized leader in the organic dairy
community, made her feelings clear, "Now that a tough pasture rule is in
place, the next very important and needed piece of organic dairy standards work
is the realm of dairy replacement animals, in order to have a fair and
equitable standard that is the same for all farms."
For years, the USDA allowed giant organic factory dairies, milking as
many as 10,000 cows, to confine their animals in huge feedlots and buildings
instead of providing them "access to pasture" as required by federal
law. Sparked by Cornucopia's legal complaints against Aurora Dairy,
Dean Foods and others operating phony "organic" feedlot dairies, a
movement began to close loopholes and clarify pasture requirements for feed and
grazing. The USDA's release of strict new pasture rules this past
February counts as a major victory for organic family farms and consumers.
But bringing in yearling heifers and "converting them to
organic," by managing them organically (organic feed and no banned drugs)
during the second year of their life has become standard operating practice at some
of the same large industrial dairies.
"Another highly-objectionable facet of the illegal laundering of
conventional calves is they are likely fed 'milk replacer' instead of fresh
organic milk," noted Kastel.
Feeding milk replacer instead of milk further pads the bottom line of
the giant factory dairies. Rather than feed fresh organic milk to their
calves, they instead sell that milk to dairy processors. Milk replacer
might also contain risky materials tied to bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE) that are also explicitly banned in organic production and produces cows
with weaker immune systems, more susceptible to disease.
Cornucopia's latest formal legal complaint, in defense of
family-scale farmers, spotlights the Natural Prairie Dairy in Dalhart, Texas.
The dairy, milking over 7000 cows in two barns, is thought to be the largest
certified organic dairy in the United
"They are likely selling well over $1 million worth of milk a
year, at wholesale farmgate pricing, that would otherwise be legally required
to be fed to their calves," Kastel affirmed. "This illegal and
unfair competition has to be stopped immediately."
Just as they delayed the enforcement requiring pasture, and precluding
the feedlot confinement of organic dairy cows, the USDA has claimed they need
new rulemaking in order to close loopholes allowing conventional cattle to be
brought onto organic operations.
Although it appears that the new administration at the USDA recognizes
the impropriety of the current practice, their proposed solution has also been
to develop new tighter regulations. Many industry observers are concerned
that the rulemaking process could take another two years, or longer, until
tighter regulations go into effect.
"The market for organic milk is tightening right now, in late
2010. If major industrial producers are able to continue to bring in
conventional cattle, they will force down prices paid to family farmers,
endangering their livelihoods," Kastel said. "That's why the timing
of this enforcement, by the USDA, is so critical."
Cornucopia contends that protecting
consumer confidence in organics is possibly the most important reason to take
action on these abuses, which undermine the credibility of the organic label.
"One of the reasons that almost every
member-owned natural foods cooperative in the nation no longer sells Horizon
dairy products [owned by the dairy giant Dean Foods] is they were allowing the
same troubling practice of bringing in conventional cattle," said Natasha
Gill, of the Marquette Food Cooperative in Michigan.
"When they spend extra on organic
milk, consumers feel they are supporting both humane animal husbandry and
economic fairness for the farmers who produce their food. These illegal
practices have to stop now," Gill added
The Cornucopia Institute has published a
comprehensive report on organic dairy, including a scorecard rating over 120
brands of organic dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, ice cream etc.).
It is designed to empower consumers and wholesale buyers so that they can make
good purchasing decisions, rewarding the true organic farming heroes in the
A copy of the formal legal complaint filed
by The Cornucopia Institute can be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/
The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. Their web page can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.