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Paint It Green—with Recycled, Phony Rhetoric

Market researchers seem to have decided that promoting the "green" attributes of your company or products will resonate with consumers. 

There was certainly an overabundance of promotions in the lead-up to Earth Day this year.  And, in terms of marketing, Earth Day alone is not enough.  We now celebrate "Earth Week!"

You might think that a big-box retailer, calling itself "sustainable," or "green," hawking consumer goods that are mostly imported from distant third world nations, would be an oxymoron.  But the folks at the Target Corporation, and other sophisticated merchants, apparently don't think so.

What really stuck in my craw was Target's Sunday advertising supplement, tooting their green horn, citing such arcane facts as, "Did you know that Target offers a gift card made from 40% recycled materials?" 

It also included a promotion for their Archer Farms organic milk, at about $.50 less per carton than name-brand organic milk at other grocery stores, natural food cooperatives or Whole Foods.

Organic milk is green.  Well, real organic milk, that is.


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Target purchases their "organic" milk from a corporation, Aurora Dairy, that owns five giant factory farms milking upwards of 20,000 cows.  Packaged in a single processing plant in Colorado, it is then shipped, burning fossil fuels, to every state in this country-seriously undercutting the livelihoods of real, local and sustainable organic family farmers.

The United States Department of Agriculture, in investigating a legal complaint against Aurora, found that the corporation was in "willful" violation of federal law and that they fraudulently sold milk labeled as organic.  Aurora was confining their cattle to giant feedlots, instead of grazing as the law requires, and had brought in thousands of conventional animals, illegally, among 12 other violations of law.

The Bush administration overruled career civil servants at the USDA, who recommended banning Aurora from future involvement in the organic industry.  Instead, consumers around the country-consumers who are really "green"-have filed a total of 19 separate class-action, consumer fraud lawsuits against Aurora and their customers like Target, Wal-Mart, Costco and Safeway-all companies that are apparently proud of their "green" practices.

In response to the USDA findings, and in spite of the lawsuits, Target has arrogantly continued to sell milk manufactured by Aurora and to tout its social responsibility.  I just view this as the height of hypocrisy.

So it is up to us as consumers to support merchants who are truly concerned with our communities and environment, and to avoid the fast talking flimflam outfits hoping to capitalize on our growing interest in taking responsibility for our impact on the Earth through the products we purchase.  A ranking of all organic milk brands is available at:

Mark Kastel

Mark Kastel is co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a progressive farm policy research group based in Wisconsin and acts as its Senior Farm Policy Analyst. He directs its Organic Integrity Project.

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