Organic Farming by Press Release?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
- Mark Kastel, 608-625-2000,
- Harry Lewis, 903-885-9150
CORNUCOPIA: Dean Foods, the $11 billion giant that controls the leading market position in conventional milk, is taking a controversial and risky gamble by attempting to turn their 4000 cow plus confinement dairy, in the desert-like West, into what the public will perceive as a “legitimate” organic farm. Earlier this year, The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, filed a legal complaint with the USDA alleging that cows on Dean’s Horizon farm are confined to a feedlot and routinely denied access to pasture as required by the federal law that regulates organic food production.
Now the corporate dairy giant has announced that they will spend $10 million on the farm located near Paul, Idaho, by adding pasture, more barns, and state-of-the-art milking equipment.
“With stocking levels maybe five times higher than the average organic dairy farm in the United States, and conditions that their farm manager has referred to as ‘the desert,’ we question whether Dean can realistically operate a pasture-based dairy,”said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute. “Even if they divide their herd in half to make it easier to manage, I would find it hard to believe that they will be able to handle as many as 2,000 to 2,500 cows (plus young stock) being milked three times a day while providing, as the company says in their news release, ‘freedom for animals to roam and exhibit their natural behaviors,'” Kastel added.
“What they instead appear to be doing is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” Kastel stated. “And if this is the case, I suspect that consumers will see through their PR job and perhaps reject their products in the marketplace.”
The Cornucopia Institute has been tracking the growth of confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in organic agriculture. As demand for organic milk has skyrocketed, investors have built large industrial farms mimicking what has become the standard production paradigm in the conventional dairy industry. They hope to use the CAFOs to reduce organic production operating costs through confinement and the ability it provides to increase herd milking frequency to three and even four times a day.
“An official of Dean/Horizon offered to brief us last month on their ‘good news,’ but when we followed up on their offer our phone calls went unreturned,” observed Kastel. Dean, along with Colorado-based Aurora Dairy, which operates numerous factory-style dairies around the country, might already control 60 to 70% of the nation’s organic milk market. “We cannot allow them to ‘greenwash’ their factory farms and delude the consumer,” said Kastel.
“Think of what they could accomplish if they were willing to invest $10 million in fostering new family farm startups and further funding organic transitions,” said Texas organic dairyman Harry Lewis.
Although Dean claims that 75% of their milk comes from “family dairy farms,” some of their suppliers have split (conventional/organic) operations with as many as 10,000 cows (3000 organic). “That’s a big family! And it’s a growing family with the company said to be reaching out to other producers in the West, encouraging them to start new 1,000-2,000 cow operations,” Lewis added.
“This corporate behemoth, the largest conventional milk bottler in the country, is out to take control of the organic dairy industry by controlling raw milk supply,” according to Kastel. “There is a perfect economic model for the catastrophic results when this type of market concentration takes place in agriculture – margins get squeezed and family-scale producers are forced off the land,” Kastel lamented.
“What they are suggesting as an answer to their ‘image problem’ in the organic marketplace is nothing more than an attempt to greenwash their factory farm,” organic dairy producer Lewis said with passion. “Based on the dry climate and lack of rainfall in that area of Idaho, this farm would likely require 5 to 10 times more pasture than the 1400 acres they are proposing to be added to their feedlot operation.”
“We will thoroughly investigate Dean’s proposal and report back to the organic community with our findings,” Kastel promised.
The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy and economic development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives. The Institute’s Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. The Institute actively resists regulatory rollbacks and the weakening of organic standards, to protect and maintain consumer confidence in the organic food label.