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Did you know? Organic Dairy.

May 25, 2011

Not all organic products are created equal. The Cornucopia Institute (CI) rates organic dairy products on the basis of their business practices and transparency, as well as their farming methods; with “5 cows” being the most desirable and “0 cows” being the least (obviously). I’m really happy with their rating system, and all the information that they have included in their “dairy report.” The information listed on their site serves as a great reminder that there is more to quality organic products than avoiding antibiotics and hormones, and then slapping that logo on the product. For those of you who buy organic dairy hoping for healthier products that were raised humanely and sustainably, these important and sometimes shocking findings are for you:

  1. Traders Point Farms – 5-Cows, Ba-da boom, Ba-da bow – First and foremost, I have to give props to this Indiana family-owned farm. These fabulous products are offered at my co-op, and our farmers market. Trader’s Point says, “We believe in “nourishing the land that nourishes us all.” This means preserving the family farm and continuing our grandparents’ legacy of sensible, sustainable, low-input agriculture.”
  2. Stonyfield Farm, a giant in organic yogurt, also offers organic milk to the eastern half of the nation. While their yogurt gets a 4-Cow rating, their milk was not rated as highly. Why? According to the CI, “Although the Stonyfield name and logo appear on the carton, this milk is actually produced and marketed by HP Hood. With revenues of approximately $5 billion, they are one of the largest dairy processors in the United States.” The Stonyfield/Hood milk comes from lots of different sources, and that makes it hard to keep track of how the animals are being raised and how the milk is produced. Having said that, the CI states that they are working hard to get a good system put together, and if successful, their 3-cow rating will go up.
  3. Organic Valley dairy, with its 4-cow rating, is a farmer-owned co-op (along with Organic Prairie meats).  They say, “In an era where corporations dominate all facets of business including government, global energy, agriculture, and global food supply, CROPP Cooperative serves small farmers and rural community health. Our cooperative was founded to nurture local communities by keeping farmers on the land, farming.” Now, this is a company I’m happy to support. In fact, I’m supporting their raw cheddar cheese as we speak!!
  4. Whole Foods (365 Organic)–4-Cows – The CI found it admirable that Whole Foods was the first store brand label willing to disclose their “private-label products,” and participate in this study.  According to the CI, “Whole Foods has been diligent in their efforts to secure a source for their organic milk that is of high integrity and comes from family farmers, not industrial-scale factory-farms where most of their competitors (Wild Oats, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart, Costco, among others) are procuring all or some of their “organic” milk.”
  5. Trader Joe’s 1-Cow, Holy Cow – Here is what the CI has to say about 1 cow rated brands: “Even though none of the one cow–rated brands responded to our survey request, we were able to determine that these brands were, at the time of our research, buying some or all of their organic milk from factory-farm sources. We conducted our research in this area through interviews with a number of industry sources and through federally maintained records… So the bottom line to private-label organic products, whether a dairy item or any other commodity, is “buyer beware.” We encourage consumers to be vigilant and contact stores to confirm who is supplying their private-label milk, or to just pay an extra quarter or two for name-brand milk from farmers and brands that are willing to be open with them and who share their values.” ***Aldi, Costco, Kroger’s Naturally Preferred brand, Meijer and Target’s Archer Farms dairy products all fall into this category as well.***
  6.  Horizon (a.k.a. Dean Foods) – 0 Cows , Wow – I’m sad to say that I have actually purchased this milk a few times, and would have purchased it several more times. CI has lots to say about these folks, including the sentiment that they are “ethically deficient,” so here it goes:  “Started by a syndicate of millionaires whose experience included organic groceries and conventional factory dairy farming, they quickly grew the enterprise, accessing venture capital and eventually selling stock in the company on Wall Street. Horizon, which is now the largest selling organic milk brand, was purchased by Dean Foods, a giant agribusiness, with almost $11 billion in sales, specializing in dairy products. Dean is also the largest conventional dairy marketer in the country. They operate two corporate-owned farms, in Maryland and Idaho. Their Idaho facility, milking 4000–5000 cows, was originally a conventional factory-dairy that they converted to organic production. It has, according to widespread industry reports, very little access to pasture. Unlike the majority of all organic dairy farmers in the United States, who concentrate on the health and longevity of their cows, caring for them from birth, the Dean/Horizon Idaho farm sells off all their calves. Later, presumably to save money on organic feed and management, they buy one-year-old conventional animals on the open market. These replacements likely have received conventional milk replacer (made with blood—considered to be a “mad cow” risk), antibiotics, other prohibited pharmaceuticals, and genetically engineered feed. Many practices on a farm of this nature put ethical family-scale organic farmers at a competitive disadvantage.In addition, Dean/Horizon purchases milk from other industrial-scale farms, some of which have a history of alleged labor abuses, and has reportedly been actively recruiting additional large farms. The company has announced plans to invest $10 million in additional farms in Idaho that will milk thousands of cows.  **It’s not rocket science to deduce that, since this brand is displayed right next to Wal-Mart’s Great Value Organic Milk products – it’s more-than-likely the same stinking product.  Darn it, I’ve bought the Great Value brand too!

As my web search continued,  I discovered that the Silk brand also belongs to Dean foods, but it seems that their soybeans are non-GMO and farmed here in the US. The link above contains some good information about their soybean farms.

The simple truth is that it is not east being an informed consumers, and plenty of companies are willing to  hide factory farming and unethical practices behind the organic label. I learn something new everyday, and while it is overwhelming at times, I would never trade it for ignorance!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2011 9:02 pm

    It’s still to buy local when you can. I’m looking forward to the local summer veggies.

  2. May 31, 2011 6:55 pm

    Wow, thanks for the information. I didn’t know about the rating system until now. I’ve been purchasing Horizon’s product for a while and I think it’s time to switch! Better spend my money wiser! Thank you again for the useful information.


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