The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Mark Kastel,

Organic Family Dairies Being Crushed by Rogue Factory Farms

Farmers Appeal to OMB, President Obama for Justice


Family farmers from around the country, who produce organic milk, are
petitioning president Obama, and the White House's Office of Management and
Budget (OMB), for the swift adoption of new strict rulemaking that will rein in
the abuses of a handful of factory farms they claim are violating both the
spirit and letter of the federal organic law.

The pending rewrite of the organic livestock standards, with an
emphasis on assuring compliance with provisions that require that ruminants,
like dairy cows, be grazed, is currently under review at OMB, where the
administration is being heavily lobbied by industrial farming interests to
water down the rules.

To meet the explosive growth in the organic industry, over the last
five years, a number of large industrial dairies, milking as many as 7200 cows,
have exploited the stellar reputation that organic dairy products have earned
in the eyes of consumers who are looking for safer and more nutritious food for
their families.

"With the flattening of demand for organic food, these giant
dairies have flooded the market with cheap milk that is now crushing the family
farmers who have built this industry," said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm
Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. "These CAFOs
(concentrated animal feeding operations) are anathema to organic consumers
investing in a more environmentally sensitive approach to food production and
humane animal husbandry. Ironically, one of the reasons they are willing
to pay extra for organic milk is they think that the farmers who produce it are
being fairly treated."

The current surplus of organic milk, caused by factory farms, has
forced prices down for family farmers. Sadly, there have been reports
around the country of a number of suicides of both conventional and organic
dairy producers. Some organic farmers are now facing foreclosure, a stark
contrast to the economic promise of organics over the past two decades of

Organic farmers are particularly resentful of two corporate players
that heavily lobbied the USDA during both the Bush and Obama administrations,
attempting to weaken regulatory language that requires dairy cows to be managed
in a way that promotes their natural instinctive behaviors, including grazing
on open pastures rather than spending most of their lives confined in barns and
dirt feedlots.

The largest villain, in the eyes of dairy farmers, is Aurora
Dairy. The $100 million corporation owns five "factory
farms," managing thousands of cows each, in arid regions of Texas and Colorado.
Owning its own manufacturing plant, Aurora
packages and ships milk for sale as storebrand products at Wal-Mart and a
number of leading supermarket chains. Aurora's factory farm milk reaches
every corner of this country, undercutting ethical farmers and their marketing

"Although the president of Aurora Dairy, Mark Retzloff, has
heavily contributed to the Democratic Party, President Obama, and Tom Vilsack,
former Iowa
governor who is now USDA Secretary, we trust that the current administration
will focus on the suspect practices of his company rather than their past
financial and political support," Kastel stated.

In what has been described as the largest scandal in the history of the
organic industry, in 2007, the USDA found that Aurora had "willfully" violated 14
tenets of the federal organic law including confining their animals, instead of
grazing, and bringing illegal conventional cows into their factory farm

The Bush administration let Aurora
off without a cent in fines, instead placing the company on a one-year
probation. Since then, 19 class-action lawsuits by consumers, charging Aurora with consumer
fraud, has been working its way through the federal court system.

More disturbing to many organic consumers and farmers alike, especially
in California, is the revelation that a previously respected and popular
organic brand, Straus Dairy, has actively partnered with Aurora in attempting
to scuttle enforcement of the pasture requirements for organic cattle under
evaluation by the OMB.

"Albert Straus has repeatedly stated in public, and now is
petitioning the Obama administration, claiming that it's impossible in his
environment, north of San Francisco, to comply with the new proposed federal
requirements for pasturing his cattle," said certified organic dairy
producer John Mattos, who farms about 10 miles further north of the Straus
operation in Sonoma County. Mattos is a member-owner of Organic Valley,
a cooperative of family farmers that competes with Straus.

Mattos purposely chose to milk Jerseys, and Jersey crossbreeds, instead
of the more productive and more common Holsteins,
because they thrive when grazing in more marginal areas. "I graze 5 1/2
months a year, my cows are outside year round, I have no problems with the
proposed standards," Mattos affirmed.

There were no cows out on pasture at the Straus dairy when it was
observed by Kastel when he visited the Straus operation, and other area dairy
farms, in 2008.

"It is grossly unfair that just a handful of dairies, for selfish
reasons, are trying to derail strict enforcement," said Bob Camozzi, an
organic farmer who also ships his milk to Clover Stornetta, another local North Coast California
dairy brand.

"Our farmers are committed to maximizing pasture consumption by
our cattle due to the economic benefits, the profoundly positive impact it has
on the health of the animals and the superior nutrients that are contained in
pasture-based organic milk," Camozzi explained.

Meeting with and lobbying the OMB in Washington, along with Aurora, is
not the first time Albert Straus has angered other members of the organic dairy
community by speaking against strict enforcement of organic dairy regulations.

"Albert has portrayed his brand as coming from his small family
farm. But as his brand succeeded and grew in the marketplace, he
apparently added too many cows to be grazed on the available land he owns and
then he further grew his operation by buying from other area farmers,"
said Tony Azevedo, a San Joaquin Valley dairyman and president of the Western
Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. "It's a shame that he chooses not
to pasture on a regular basis."

"It would be a national scandal, as some of us face losing our
farms due to the industrial dairy scofflaws, if the Obama administration sides
with the 'bad actors' in our industry," affirmed Bruce
Drinkman, an organic dairy farmer from Glenwood
City, Wisconsin, who
milks 55 cows.
"We are in dire financial straits because of the same kind of unethical
competition from factory farms that put so many of our conventional neighbors
out of business. We need the President and the USDA on our side!"

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.