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Organic Milk Shakeup: Factory-Farm Dairy Decertified

December 7, 2009

Last week, after a four-year investigation, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) decertified the organic dairy Promiseland Livestock for inadequate record-keeping and refusing to provide regulators with records of its adherence to organic production standards. In addition to the record-keeping rules, Promiseland was investigated for numerous other violations, including not feeding organic grain to cattle, selling fraudulent organic feed and “laundering” conventional cattle as organic.

Under the USDA national organic standard, organic dairies are required to use organic feed for their herds. The GMO drug bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is prohibited, as is any use of other growth-promoting hormones or animal drugs. Also prohibited are feeding animals plastic pellets for roughage and feeding by-products of mammalian slaughter, practices common to conventional factory farms. Further, animals must be provided conditions that provide for their health and accommodate their “natural behavior,” including having access to pasture.

But USDA’s enforcement of the access to pasture rule has been a longstanding controversy. From the inception of the organic rule in 2001, the nation’s large organic dairies have sought a loose definition of “access to pasture” so they could continue their factory confined feeding model and still call their milk “organic.” In 2007, one of the nation’s largest organic dairies, Aurora Organic, was cited by the USDA for willful violations of the access to pasture rule and other organic standards. The violations were not publicized by USDA or Aurora’s state certifier, but by the organic watchdog group, the Cornucopia Institute. Cornucopia had previously exposed the decertification of the 10,000-cow Vander Eyk Dairy, which they alleged was “masquerading as organic” until it was shuttered by federal regulators.

An Organic Valley dairy farmer

Interestingly, one large organic dairy company has been a leader in the movement for stronger organic standards. The nation’s largest organic dairy cooperative, the CROPP coop (makers of Organic Valley and Organic Prairie brand products) is a farmer-owned company made up of more than 1200 small and mid-sized dairy farms in 34 states with products found in all 50 states, Canada and Japan. According to Cornucopia’s organic dairy report, Organic Valley ranks as “excellent” for its adherence to organic standards.

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