December 4, 2008

CORNUCOPIA, Wisconsin – December 3 – Many media outlets, from the New York Times to the blogosphere, have tracked what has been dubbed the “corporate takeover” of organic farming. One of the hottest controversies in this rapidly growing $20 billion industry has been giant factory farms milking thousands of cows each in feedlots and masquerading as organic. Some of these industrial dairies are controlled by the nation’s largest agribusinesses.

Since the organic community first appealed to the USDA for better clarification and enforcement of regulations requiring organic dairy producers to graze their cattle, nearly 9 years ago, the number of giant industrial dairy operations, with as many as 10,000 cows, has grown from two to approximately 15. After years of delay, the USDA has finally responded with a new proposed rule that they said would crack down on abuses.

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“The birds have come home to roost,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute. The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group estimates there are 35,000 to 45,000 cows on giant CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) operating in the United States producing as much as 40% of the nation’s organic milk supply.

“These CAFOs are producing so much milk that they have depressed pricing and profit margins for organic family farmers, and now some are being forced out of business by this distressing situation,” Kastel said. “Organics was supposed to be the antidote to family farmers being forced off the land.”

The Cornucopia Institute has filed formal legal complaints with the USDA aimed at compelling the agency to enforce organic livestock and management rules. These actions have led to the shut down or penalizing of some of what they call “organic scofflaws.” But many in the industry criticized the agency for failing to fully investigate many other alleged violations on giant farms, including several that supply milk to the nation’s largest dairy processor, Dallas-based Dean Foods.

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