Organic Dairy Farms Being Crushed by Factory Operations

Family farmers who produce organic milk are petitioning for the
swift adoption of new strict rule-making that would rein in the
abuses of a handful of factory farms, which 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
grazing for dairy cows, is under review at the Office of Management
and Budget, 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 7,200 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. 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 growth.

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

The largest villain, in the eyes of dairy farmers, is Aurora
Dairy. The $100 million corporation owns five "factory farms," each
with thousands of cows, in arid regions of Texas and Colorado.
Owning its own manufacturing plant, Aurora packages and ships milk
for sale as store-brand products at Walmart 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, the 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 its past financial and
political support.

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 its animals instead of grazing, and bringing
illegal conventional cows into its factory farm operations.

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, have been working their way through the federal court

Bruce Drinkman, an organic dairy farmer from Glenwood City,
Wis., who milks 55 cows, is right when he says:

"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. 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!"

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