Collateral Damage: Organic Farmers Being Squeezed Out; Corporate Takeover Threatens Farmers, Mission

October 13, 2008  10:10 AM

CONTACT: The Cornucopia Institute
Mark Kastel, 608.625.2042

Collateral Damage: Organic Farmers Being Squeezed Out
Corporate Takeover Threatens Farmers, Mission

CORNUCOPIA, Wis. – October 13 – Groups representing organic farmers and their
customers are calling on consumers to help save the organic industry by exclusively
patronizing dairies, and other brands, that uphold the spirit and letter of the
federal organic law.  They claim the acquisition of major brands by corporate
agribusiness, and their dependence on factory farms, threatens to force families off
the land and deprive consumers of the superior nutritional food they think they are
paying for.

“This could be the end of the organic industry as we know it,” said Mark A. Kastel,
codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, widely recognized as the organic industry’s
most aggressive farming watchdog.  The Institute reports that the proliferation of
industrial-scale dairies has bloated the organic milk supply, inflated the price of
feed for dairy cows, and resulted in a financial crisis for family farmers, even as
the market continues to grow-defying the general economic downturn.

The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute announced today that it has filed formal
legal complaints, seeking USDA enforcement, against two more operators of giant
industrial dairies.  The farm policy research group claims they are “masquerading as
organic.”  Cornucopia also announced that it has released an update to its popular
organic scorecard helping consumers make informed choices in the marketplace in
selecting dairy brands that represent the highest level of organic practices.

The dairy segment, second only behind fresh fruits and vegetables, represents nearly
$4 billion worth of annual revenue or about 15 to 20% of the organic industry.

For eight years, participants in the organic community-farmers, consumers,
retailers, and other stakeholders-have fought the industrialization of organic milk
by giant corporations and factory farms milking as many as 10,000 animals.  Although
the National Organic Standards Board, the expert panel set up by Congress to advise
the Secretary of Agriculture, has voted to crack down on industry scofflaws five
times since 2000, Bush
administration officials have refused to act.

“This cynical corporate takeover of organic farming, an agriculture segment that is
held in high regard by consumers, resulting in a highly successful and growing
market, has been aided and abetted by the gross disregard of the USDA’s enforcement
responsibilities,” said Merrill Clark, a certified organic livestock producer and
former member of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board.

Cornucopia’s legal complaints to the USDA targeted Phoenix-based Shamrock Farms,
which operates an industrial dairy milking approximately 11,000 cows in the desert
54 miles south of their plant, and the Rockview Farms Dairy of Downey, California,
the operator of another giant industrial dairy in the desert north of Las Vegas,

“When Cornucopia staff visited Shamrock’s operation we found inadequate, overgrazed
pasture adjacent to their milking facility, and we were told by Shamrock employees
that the confined cows had not been out in weeks,” Kastel stated.  Federal organic
regulations require that cows be grazed.

“Not only do these confinement operations create an unfair competitive playing
field, discriminating against all the family farmers who work hard to fulfill both
the letter and intent of the national organic standards, they also are denying the
consumer the extra healthful nutrients that university studies have verified as
being present in the milk of cows that graze fresh green grass,” said Kathie Arnold,
president of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.

Cornucopia’s filing of a legal action against Rockview Farms Dairy chronicled
similar alleged violations of organic livestock management rules.  Rockview Farms,
of Downey, California, produces their organic milk at a giant industrial farm in the
Nevada desert near Amargosa Valley, just northwest of Las Vegas.  Its milk is
marketed under the Good Heart label.

“Just like Shamrock, Rockview’s phony-baloney organic farm primarily confines their
cattle in a massive feedlot milking both organic and conventional cows,” Kastel
affirmed.  “This outfit is everything that organics isn’t — in addition to
confining their cattle, Rockview has been accused of environmental damage and even
irrigates some of their land with waste products from a municipal sewage plant.”

One way that Cornucopia is fighting unethical corporate players like Shamrock,
Rockview, and the industry’s largest dairy, Dean Foods, which markets organic milk
under the Horizon label, is to educate and engage consumers.

Cornucopia just updated their organic dairy scorecard, which ranks every brand in
the country-large and small-based on their ethical approach to their milk
production.  It contains 107 organic brands covering fluid milk, yogurt, cheese,
butter, and ice cream.

“We have encouraged our 900,000 members and collaborators to use
Cornucopia’s research when making their purchasing decisions for organic dairy
products,” said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).
 In the past, OCA has called on its membership to boycott the Horizon brand and milk
produced by Aurora Dairy, the nation’s largest manufacturer of private-label organic

“We are carefully examining Cornucopia’s new findings and are likely to ramp up our
pressure campaign to force these bad actors to change their business models or to
exit the industry,” Cummins added.

The good news for consumers, according to the Cornucopia study, is that 85% of all
name-brand marketers are respecting both the letter and spirit of the federal
organic law.

Besides farmers concerned with their livelihoods, consumers have also voiced
dissatisfaction with the USDA’s lack of enforcement by the alleged organic

A growing body of scientific literature clearly indicates that
legitimately produced organic milk, from pasture-based animals, offers distinct
nutritional advantages.  This year Newcastle University reported that milk from
grazing cows on organic farms contains significantly higher amounts of beneficial
fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins.

According to Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Newcastle University
study, their research “clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows graze
naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the differences
in the composition between organic and conventional milk.”

“I know I’m not the only consumer who would feel ripped off to know that when I
spend extra money on organic milk for my family that it comes from giant factory
farms,” said Andrea Rae of San Diego, Calif.

The Cornucopia Institute’s updated organic dairy survey and scorecard can be found
at  And photo galleries containing images of the Rockview and
Shamrock factory farm dairies can also be viewed on the Cornucopia web page.


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