Is Horizon Organic truly Organic?

The marketplace has determined that there is room for organic products, even if it means higher prices. For the extra cost it helps ensure that a) animals are treated humanely and b) It helps sustain family farms and allows consumers a viable alternative to corporate mega-farms. It’s an idea that has exploded in the food market over the past dozen years.

So it’s not surprising that once it had been determined that there was a market for such products, some corporate farms sought to get a piece of the pie. Enter Dean Dairy, who has a vested interest in Horizon Dairy. So now, Horizon Dairies have a similar distrubution model as Dean Dairy, including outsourcing milk production to satellite dairies.

That business model has now caused some ethical problems for Horizon Dairies. The Cornucopia Institute has filed formal complaints with the USDA‘s Office of Compliance asking them to initiate investigations into alleged violations of the federal organic law by factory farms operating in Idaho, Colorado and California. These factory farms produce milk under the Horizon Organic label.

At dispute is the dairies compliance to Organic standards. The National Organic Standards Board, appointed by the secretary of agriculture, determines standards that determine what products considered “organic” and what doesn’t. When it comes to organic milk, some of the standards include:

  • Organic dairy cows must eat grain that isn’t genetically modified or treated with pesticides or fertilizers, and the cows cannot be given growth hormones or antibiotics.
  • Dairy cows must have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate and the environment.

The cows at the locations mentioned by the Cornucopia Institute are reported to NOT have access to pasture, violating one of the above standards which make organic…well…organic. “According to reports, both the Idaho and California operations differ little from conventional confinement dairies other than having their high-producing cows fed certified organic feed”, says Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst, at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute.

About that certified organic feed:

Craig Muchow, a diversified organic farmer from Gooding, Idaho noted that the Dean/Horizon farm has turned its back on many area farmers after initially seeking their support: “After Horizon converted their large farm to organic they solicited local hay growers and offered us a price-premium to supply them with alfalfa if we also converted to organic production. That worked well for the first few years but then they did away with most premiums and now they have abandoned many small farmers in the area altogether.” According to a number of neighbors, much of the feed the Horizon farm now buys is shipped in on railroad cars and processed by one of the largest corporate agribusiness concerns in the United States.

So now we have an organic farm that treats animals poorly and does not support local family farms. This now begs the question – Is Horizon Organic truly Organic?

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