For Immediate Release
Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
Nonprofit David Cuts Down Agribusiness Goliaths
Dean Foods, Target Stumble—Being Forced to Correct Deceptive Practices
CORNUCOPIA, Wis. - An
investigation by the USDA's National Organic Program has determined that Target
Corporation wrongly used the image of a certified organic product when
promoting the sale of a conventional product to consumers. The
investigation was triggered by a complaint filed by The Cornucopia Institute, a
farm policy group and organic watchdog based in Wisconsin.
The violation at Target came after Dean Foods switched almost all their
category-leading Silk soymilk from organic to conventional soybeans earlier
this year. The specific problem involved Target using an image of a Silk
organic product, in advertising flyers, when the retailer was really selling
Silk's reformulated "natural" version (not organic,
but made with conventional soybeans). Target made a commitment to the
USDA to review their procedures to "prevent future errors of this
And now, over eight months after Dean Foods stealthily switched its
core Silk product line to cheaper conventional soybeans, while, until recently,
retaining the same packaging appearance. Now the giant dairy
processor's WhiteWave division has been found itself to also be
misrepresenting the product as organic on one of their own websites. A new
legal complaint has been filed in an attempt to protect consumers from what
Cornucopia calls, "fraudulent misrepresentation."
"It should not take the judicious oversight of an industry
watchdog to cause these giant corporations to simply comply with the
law," said Mark Kastel,
Cornucopia's Senior Farm Policy Analyst. "Target and Dean are
trying to do organics on the cheap and have not invested in the kind of
management expertise necessary to prevent problems of this nature from
occurring," added Kastel. "And after widespread media
condemnation, it's hard to believe that Dean Foods hasn't even cleaned up its
Since the NOP investigation, and Target's pledge to review their
practices, unlike Dean Foods, Cornucopia has not observed additional problems
with the retailer's advertising.
The meteoric rise in consumer interest in healthy, environmentally
sound and humane farming practices has catapulted organics into a $24 billion
industry. Along the way, major agribusinesses , like General Mills, Dean
Foods and Kraft have gobbled up many pioneering companies that helped build the
industry through a series of acquisitions. Today, most processed organic
food is produced and controlled by the same type of companies that bring us
International Delight imitation coffee creamer, Cheetos, Ding Dongs and Cap'n
No longer controlled by industry visionaries, corporate managers now
seek to squeeze extra profits out by sometimes switching established organic
brands to "natural" labeling, using cheaper conventionally grown and
That's a far cry from when the organic food and farming movement first
started enjoying widespread commercial success in the 1980s. In its
inception, the industry was dominated by a number of family businesses,
entrepreneurial enterprises and farmer-owned cooperatives, where building a
profitable brand was most often married with the owner's values.
"Big is not necessarily bad in the organic industry," said Mark Kastel, codirector of The Cornucopia
Institute. "As an organic watchdog we are much more concerned with
‘corporate ethics' than we are with ‘corporate
Dean Foods, the largest dairy processor in the United States, has apparently
acquiesced and finally changed
the packaging for their Silk brand of soymilk. Cornucopia had sparked
widespread media scrutiny, and associated consumer backlash, against Dean for
quietly shifting their core silk product line from organic to conventional
soybeans-while keeping essentially the same packaging and UPC (scanner)
barcodes. "This change [new packaging] should have happened right as
they shifted to conventional soybeans, not after the fact," said Kastel.
"For the better part of this past
year, consumers and retailers both have repeatedly reported that they were
deceived and ended up unknowingly buying Silk products with conventional
soybeans," stated Kastel. With both their new and old packaging
still in the marketplace, Cornucopia is concerned that consumers will be misled
by advertising on websites representing the product as organic.
Silk is manufactured and distributed by Dean Foods' WhiteWave-MorningStar
division headquartered in Longmont,
Colorado. Like many other
massive agribusiness corporations, the Dean name never appears on the packaging
for its soy foods or its Horizon
dairy label-just as consumers will never see the name General Mills on a
package of Cascadian Farms frozen
vegetables, Kraft on Back to Nature
brand crackers or Kellogg's on Kashi
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Dean/WhiteWave spokesperson Sara Loveday denied the corporation
intentionally misled their customers, telling the East Bay Express in a November interview, "The company
was not trying take advantage of consumer confusion over organic and
"These corporate food giants know that many organic consumers are
looking for an alternative to our current food production system," said Will Fantle, who heads up Cornucopia's research
staff. "Upon acquiring a number of the leading organic pioneers,
they have kept their subsidiary names upfront on packaging to create a façade
"hiding" the true corporate ownership," Fantle noted.
Cornucopia maintains a chart, Who
Owns Organics, created by Michigan
professor Philip Howard, on its website that lifts the veil, enabling consumers
to know who is producing their favorite organic brands (http://www.cornucopia.org/
Roy Beard, who has operated Roy's
Natural Market in Dallas
for 41 years, told the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, in their November 8 coverage surrounding the Silk
controversy, that he hadn't realized there was a product change until
contacted by a reporter. He said retaining the same bar code "was
troubling." Most retailers were never informed of the Silk
switch to conventional soybeans.
Dean/WhiteWave has also received heat in the organic food and
agriculture community for choosing to convert some of their Horizon dairy products, the leading
organic label in terms of sales volume, to cheaper "natural"
"This really hit a nerve because one of these new Horizon products,
Little Blends yogurt, is aimed
specifically at toddlers, at an early stage of development, where the
nutritional superiority of organic food, and its benefit of avoiding chemical
residues in our food, is so critically important," Kastel explained.
"This starkly undermines the propaganda on the Horizon website proclaiming
how dedicated they are to the organic movement-this is all about profit,
The media blow up on the Silk switcheroo included a front-page story in
the Chicago Tribune in July that
outlined a consumer survey indicating the public was unclear about the
difference between natural and organic labels and that some corporations,
particularly Dean Foods, were taking advantage of the confusion in the
"Dean has only added to the marketplace confusion between
'natural' and 'organic,' as they definitely do not mean the same
thing, and 'natural' requires no verification whatsoever," Urvashi
Rangan, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer
Reports, also told Barry Shlachter of the Star-Telegram.
The Cornucopia's Kastel likes to identify corporate giant Heinz
as a company doing organics right. "They helped fund California tomato
growers who switched to organic production, and they brought in a highly reputable
organic certifier, produced the product in their own plant, and finally put the
Heinz name on the label," Kastel stated. "I think their ethical
approach to organic production is what consumers expect and is being rewarded
in the marketplace by virtue of the success they're having with their organic
Cornucopia also cites Stonyfield yogurt, which was acquired by group
Danone of France, as another example of a large public corporation continuing
to uphold organic values. Stonyfield remains committed to buying all of
their milk from family-scale organic farmers, unlike Dean Foods that is
increasingly relying on factory farms for its Horizon milk supply.
"The independently owned organizations, although they are fewer,
have not totally gone away," observed Fantle. Eden Foods,
Nature's Path and Organic Valley, among others, are still independently
owned even though they each do as much as $500 million of business every
The new legal complaint filed against Dean Foods, for representing their
conventional Silk soymilk as organic on one of their websites, was filed with
the USDA's National Organic Program. "We fully expect the NOP to
send a cease and desist order to Dean Foods," said Kastel. If Dean,
a $12 billion a year public corporation, is found to have willfully violated
the federal law governing organic commerce, it could be subject to fines and
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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.