Ethan A. Huff
February 27, 2014
The nonprofit organic advocacy group the Cornucopia Institute (CI) has filed its third legal complaint with the National Organic Program (NOP) alleging serious improprieties by Dean Foods, and specifically its WhiteWave subsidiary. According to the complaint, WhiteWave’s Horizon Organic milk brand violates organic standards because cows raised on the giant factory farm in Idaho where the company gets much of its milk are confined to feedlots and routinely barred from accessing pasture as required by law.
On February 11, CI sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service requesting an immediate investigation into the matter, which was first brought to the agency’s attention back in 2006. Addressed specifically to Matthew Michael at the NOP Compliance and Enforcement Branch, the letter alleges that Horizon repeatedly violated the law with its milk brand by corporatizing the milking process to match that of the conventional dairy industry.
“This new legal complaint is an update to the complaint… from 2006 that was never properly adjudicated by the National Organic Program,” reads the letter. “Based on freedom of information documents previously obtained by The Cornucopia Institute, it does not appear that NOP investigators ever visited the Dean/WhiteWave operation in Idaho despite our multiple requests to have them fully scrutinized.”
Horizon ‘Organic’ cows over-milked, confined during feeding, alleges complaint
CI previously presented evidence to the NOP showing that the Idaho farm where Horizon receives much of its milk, which has since been sold to private investors, was milking as many as 8,000 animals as often as four times daily in clear violation of national organic standards. Cattle were also not being properly rotated, reads the complaint, another violation that the NOP essentially disregarded, perhaps due to powerful lobbying efforts by Dean Foods.
“Just as we have banks that have become ‘too big to fail,’ in organics we see Dean Foods and WhiteWave (recently spun-off in 2013 through an IPO on Wall Street), one of the largest industry participants and the kingpin in the powerful Organic Trade Association, repeatedly and successfully flashing their ‘get out of jail free card’ purchased by influence peddlers in Washington,” says Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at CI, about the situation.
By failing to investigate these and other claims, the NOP has shirked its responsibility to protect the integrity of the organic label, not to mention ensuring that the interests of all organic farmers, and not just the larger ones, are properly safeguarded. CI says that Dean Foods raked in millions of dollars’ worth of “ill-gotten gains” by cutting corners and cheating the system, something that never should have happened under the NOP’s watch.
“Properly managing an organic dairy farm by moving the herd to fresh pasture after each twice-per-day milking becomes more and more difficult as herd size gets larger,” adds Kevin Engelbert, a certified organic dairy farmer from Nichols, New York, whose business is harmed when companies like Dean Foods get away with cheating the system. “If a farm gets to the point of milking thousands of cows, 24 hours a day, the logistics of getting the herd from the milking facility to fresh grass, legitimately grazing — as required by law — becomes impossible.”
CI has also issued a public letter to NOP chief Miles McEvoy reminding him that the agency has a responsibility to enforce the law with regard to organic standards. Chastising the NOP for catering to what it says are “industrial-scale dairies,” the CI letter draws attention to this alleged continued pattern of abuse and demands a recourse.
“The performance [of] the National Organic Program, during both the Bush and Obama administrations, should be an embarrassment to all USDA political appointees and staff,” reads the scathing letter. “It appears that the NOP is making accommodations for industrial-scale dairies, and their owners and commercial patrons, to operate outside of the spirit and letter of the law while materially damaging the ability of family-scale farmers to compete in the marketplace.”
The full text of both letters can be found in the links below.
Sources for this article include: