Cornucopia files formal legal complaint, encourages consumers to rebuke the false marketing of factory organic brands

[Read Cornucopia’s formal legal complaint to the USDA.]

Natural Prairie Dairy operation
Image from Cornucopia’s
2014 Flyover Investigation

Natural Prairie Dairy, one of the first “organic” dairies to employ industrial stocking practices, recently made headlines again. The Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) released a video in July showing severe abuse of dairy cattle at an operation housing approximately 14,000 cows, certified USDA organic by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).

The undercover video, along with ARM’s full report on their month-long investigation, shows cows being kicked, hit with shovels, stabbed with screwdrivers, force-fed, and inhumanely tied for many hours. Many cattle were observed with injuries, foot diseases, infected udders, and lameness. Downer cattle, unable to stand on their own, were beaten, dragged, left to die, and observed falling into cesspools, where they almost drowned before being dragged out by their heads.

“The abuse caught by the undercover investigator is appalling, whether it comes from an organic or conventional dairy,” commented Kestrel Burcham, JD, The Cornucopia Institute’s director of domestic policy. “Cornucopia reported to the USDA in 2010 that this certified organic dairy was violating organic regulations. Almost a decade later, Natural Prairie Dairy has not been decertified. We want proof that the USDA is willing to enforce the law.”

That proof remains elusive. Almost a month after ARM reported on the “squalid, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions” at Natural Prairie Dairy, the operation remains listed as certified in the USDA’s Organic Integrity Database, and TDA remains an accredited certifier. Cornucopia has filed a formal legal complaint against the operation and its certifier.

TDA certifies some of the most egregious factory farms and has had multiple, serious non-compliances in years past. According to Freedom of Information Act disclosures, they failed to conduct annual inspections on approximately 22% of their clients in one year, had insufficient personnel to comply with and implement the organic certification program, and failed to conduct unannounced inspections.

Burcham continued, “The Texas Department of Agriculture has a long history of stretching the organic rules and regulations. The fact that they are still an accredited certifier and Natural Prairie Dairy continues to operate shows deep enforcement problems within the organic program.”

Cornucopia filed its first legal complaint with the USDA against Natural Prairie Dairy in 2010 for selling off their baby cows at birth and purchasing conventional heifers. This practice of continuously cycling conventional animals into an organic operation is one of the controversial loopholes exploited by industrial organic dairies.

In 2014, Cornucopia flyover investigations found that Natural Prairie Dairy was stocking their pastures at an unsustainable rate – when they allowed the cows to graze at all. The USDA claimed Cornucopia’s images depicted only “a single moment in time” and took no action in response to the  legal complaints. It remains to be seen whether the USDA will follow up on the allegations of the ARM investigator claiming that healthy cattle are only allowed to graze for approximately one hour per day.

Meanwhile, the practices of industrial organic dairies continue to push authentic organic dairies out of the market. Natural Prairie Dairy allegedly plans to open another organic dairy in Newton County, Indiana soon. The facility supplies milk for the store brands of Walmart, Costco, Target, and other major supermarket chains. Consumers may not realize the very low prices they pay to these establishments support this “faux-ganic” production and the resulting hardships for ethical dairy farmers.

Retailers Kroger and Meijer announced they are suspending shipments from Natural Prairie Dairy pending an audit of the dairy. Unfortunately, these kinds of “audits” are often done to satisfy public pressure; company practices rarely change as a result.

“To reclaim integrity of the organic label, consumers have to act,” concluded Burcham. “If you consume dairy, you need to do your homework and refuse to buy into the false marketing of factory organic brands.”

Cornucopia encourages dairy consumers to purchase milk from family-scale farms and brands dedicated to organic principles. Cornucopia’s Organic Dairy Scorecard helps discerning shoppers choose the very best for their families. Read Cornucopia’s comprehensive report, The Industrialization of Organic Dairy, to learn more about the differences between factory organic and real organic dairy.

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