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Cornucopia Institute on the "Greenwashing" of Organic Factory Dairy Farms

The Greenwashing of "Organic" Factory Farming

We, at The Cornucopia Institute, take the questions raised in our recent
formal complaint to the USDA regarding Aurora Dairy very seriously. It
elicited two immediate responses, one from the USDA and one from the giant
industrial farming corporation that is being investigated.

The USDA instantaneously asked their advisory panel, The National Organic
Standards Board, to develop recommendations that will help enforce the rules
that require dairy cows to have access to pasture. Meanwhile, Aurora dairy
mobilized their internal staff and high-priced public-relations firm (Marr
Barr Communications, LLC) to try to discredit The Cornucopia Institute and
the long-standing concerns that rank-and-file organic dairy farmers have
about Aurora¹s confinement operations (feedlots). The company issued a news
release distributed to friendly/corporate journalists.

Aurora and Dean/Horizon: Millionaires versus Dairy Farmers
Who is Aurora Organic Dairy? It might be easier to find out about its
parent company and leadership. Marc Peperzak is founder, Chief Executive
Officer, and majority owner of Aurora Dairy Group. Aurora, founded in 1975,
is one of the U.S.'s largest production dairy operations, with large
industrial farms in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Texas‹a number of which
they are now transitioning to "organic" production. Mr. Peperzak previously
was cofounder and Chairman of Horizon Organic Dairy, the nation's leading
marketer of organic dairy products, and a major Aurora customer. This
mammoth factory-farm operator owns over 7000 cows in Florida alone, and in
recent years, according to the Environmental Working Group, Aurora owners
have collected over $600,000 in USDA subsidies. This is not your father's
dairy farming outfit!

In 1999 Inc. Magazine wrote: "In 1994, Horizon leased half of one Idaho
farm from Aurora Dairy Group, a chain of large dairy farms. Aurora's
president, Marcus Peperzak, is also Horizon's chairman. Shortly thereafter,
Horizon began the three-year process of converting the 4,000-cow operation
to organic production, which cost $24 million. Horizon, which makes about
50% of its milk, has spent nearly $30 million to ensure its supply."
The relationship between Aurora and Dean/Horizon continues under the
tutelage of Mark Retzloff, a former natural foods grocer and a founder and
former officer of Horizon. The Denver Business Journal profiles their
success in tapping capital and their effort to obtain dominance in organic
dairy: "Charlesbank, whose latest fund has a large investment from the
Harvard University endowment, led an $18.5 million investment in Aurora
Organic Dairy, which will have the second-largest organic dairy operations
in the country at Platteville in Weld County. It will be second only to the
Idaho operation of Boulder-based Horizon."


Investors in Aurora Organic Dairy must have been toasting themselves with
champagne after the recent court ruling that promises to dramatically raise
the cost for small, family-scale farms to transition to organic
production‹probably dissuading many would-be organic producers. The same
Denver Business Journal story explained why they are so well equipped to
continue to convert additional factory farms to organic production: "The
$18.5 million [Charlesbank funds] will be used in part to cover the one-year
transition, during which input costs rise but prices received for the milk
remain tied to lower-priced conventional milk. In addition, it will be used
for investment in the herd and farm assets."

The Cornucopia Institute Says: Enough!
For a number of years certified producers have voiced concern about large
mega-farms entering into organic production. During our research we
interviewed a number of dairy industry professionals who personally had the
opportunity to tour Aurora's facility in Colorado and interview members of
their staff and management. Our findings warranted the complaint we filed
calling for a thorough investigation by the USDA's Office of Compliance.

If Aurora's public relations/marketing officer, Clark Driftmier, is
concerned that we depended on expert witnesses rather than visiting the farm
ourselves, we would welcome an invitation from his organization for a
thorough tour. Furthermore, we call upon Aurora to open up for our
inspection their organic certification documents and farm plan, which we
have been unable to obtain through a freedom of information request with the
state of Colorado.

Although the investments that Aurora has made, and outlined in their press
release, in wind power or biodiesel are commendable, and all of the other
positive points they make might very well be true, we ask that members of
the organic community carefully examine the language that relates directly
to our complaint. The fact that all of their "cows spend time on pasture"
might also be true. Our concern was not the question of whether or not they
pasture their young stock or dry cows, but the lack of adequate (real)
pasture for lactating cows.

Millionaire investors versus dairy farmers? In choosing sides, we¹ll stand
with the country's family-scale organic producers who farm with integrity,
including those shipping to Dean/Horizon.

We invite Readers to visit our Web site, where the formal complaint to the
USDA is posted (www.cornucopia.org <http://www.cornucopia.org/> ).