Consumers see organic food labels showing cows grazing next to a little red barn and that’s what they want to buy, products from happy cows owned by profitable farmers that respect the rules, their customers, the environment and their animals.
And, most organic milk is still produced that way—the barns are not always red, but most organic farmers still fit the image their customers see on the label.
When USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) puts rules for organic production in place, they need to be followed, farmers have to find a way—and NOP needs to enforce those rules for everyone.
NOP is, per their website, “a regulatory program housed within the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. We are responsible for developing national standards for organically-produced agricultural products. These standards assure consumers that products with the USDA organic seal meet consistent, uniform standards."
Recent articles in The Washington Post however, describe a fact many small organic farmers have protested for years—there are organic farms milking thousands of cows in operations little different from a non-organic concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Post reporters, during visits to Aurora dairy in Greeley CO, found only a few hundred cows grazing at any one time out of a herd of 15,000.
Aurora’s website states that “Aurora Organic Dairy is a leading producer and processor of high quality organic milk and butter for retail store brands”. Questions about the integrity of organic milk from industrial organic farms seems to make little difference to the mega-retailers ( Walmart, Costco and Target).
The recently closed Aurora investigation covered in The Post found no violations. Still, in 2007 the USDA identified “willful violations” of organic rules by Aurora, including failure to provide pasture. Aurora agreed to “major changes” thus saving their organic status. The recent Post story would indicate few changes occurred. Think about it, how do you move 15,000 cows to pasture and back twice or three times a day for milking? Cows aren’t sprinters, NOP is, for some reason, denying reality.
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US production accounts for about 60% of the organic corn and 20% of the soybeans needed domestically and demand is increasing about 15% a year. Much of the deficit is filled by lower priced grain from the Black Sea Region of Eastern Europe.
Imported grain is cheaper because, often, it is not organic. Peter Whoriskey, reported in the Washington Post May 12, 2017 “The label said ‘organic’ but these massive imports of corn and soybeans weren’t.” He describes a shipment of conventional soybeans from Turkey to California last year that, in transit, became organic, or so the documentation said.
If providing a false organic certificate makes conventional grain organic, one can see why most organic grain farmers in the United States are losing money, and why many are considering giving up on organic production.
Organic dairy farmers have seen a 30% cut in their pay price over the past year, yet USDA Ag Marketing Service data shows, retail organic dairy prices have actually gone up 25% in some cases.
There is supposed to be an ethical commitment to organic, on the part of farmers, processors, retailers and of course the regulatory agency.
Fraudulent organic production, is destroying the organic farming sector in the United States. If USDA doesn’t correct the situation, organic farmers with integrity will lose out to fraudulent imports and CAFO organic dairies.
Those of us who still uphold that image of small red barns have provided a product that consumers expect when they buy organic and we struggle to make it work economically—without cutting corners. How much longer we can survive really depends on whether or not USDA decides that organic rules need to be followed by everyone...no matter how big their farm is, or what country they farm in.