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USDA Feels the Heat on Allowing Factory Style Dairies to be Certified as "Organic"

1/12/05
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mark Kastel 608-625-2042

1/12/05
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mark Kastel 608-625-2042

USDA Feels the Heat in Response to Organic Pasture Controversy


CORNUCOPIA, WISCONSIN: The USDA's National Organic Program immediately
responded to sharp criticism from the organic community alleging that,
through complacency, they were allowing large factory farms to produce
organic milk while skirting the legal requirement that the cows have access
to pasture as a fundamental part of their feed source. The NOP late Monday,
January 10, issued an internal memorandum requesting that the National
Organic Standards Board develop a strict policy on the pasture requirement
so that the agency can issue a guidance document, enhancing enforcement.

The heat was turned up on the agency when a front-page article in the
Chicago Tribune compared management practices at the 5600-cow Aurora dairy
farm in Colorado and the 4000-cow Horizon farm in Idaho with a more
traditional, 70-cow family-scale farm in Wisconsin that ships its milk to
the Organic Valley Cooperative. Aurora, Horizon, and Organic Valley are the
largest producers and marketers of organic milk in the country.


In addition, The Cornucopia Institute, a progressive farm policy research
group, filed a formal complaint on January 10 with the USDA, asking them to
initiate an investigation into alleged violations of the federal organic law
by Aurora¹s industrial dairy operating in Colorado.

"We are obviously pleased at the rapid response to our concern that factory
dairy farms are playing loose with the organic rules. But it shouldn't take
the threat of legal action or scrutiny from the news media to wake up our
regulators at the USDA," said Mark Kastel of the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia
Institute.

A primary mission of The Cornucopia Institute, Kastel noted, is the role of
"government watchdog" at the USDA's National Organic Program. Along with
other advocacy groups, they have long criticized the agency's adversarial
environment.

"It sure is an unusual juxtaposition,² Kastel stated. ³Every other sector of
agriculture fights like hell against regulatory oversight. Here we are, the
organic farming community, begging for strict regulation, and it takes
political pressure and the power of the press before we get any attention."

"While it appears that the environment is becoming more congenial at the
USDA¹s National Organic Program, it is unfortunate that a discernible
pattern appears to be emerging," Kastel added. In April 2004 the USDA's
National Organic Program promulgated a series of "guidance documents"
perceived by many in the organic farming community as loosening up the
requirements for organic certification. It wasn't until The Cornucopia
Institute and many other organizations and individuals vehemently protested,
leading to widespread media coverage, that the USDA withdrew the flawed
documents.

"The staff at the NOP clearly responds to heat. But we need an agency that
embraces the true spirit of organics, not the past adversarial history."
Kastel said.

While organic farmers and consumers await the results of any pending
investigation by the USDA, all eyes will be on Washington this March for the
next meeting of the National Organic Standards Board. "In the past, the
NOSB has proposed strict pasture requirements for livestock producers,² said
Kastel. "These were never implemented by the agency, so we are now quite
interested in seeing if the USDA now concurs and embarks on an aggressive
campaign forcing farms that are now not in compliance to file new farm plans
and change their management practices."

In their complaint to the USDA, The Cornucopia Institute stated their
intention to file additional actions against other factory farms that appear
to be profiteering at the expense of organic integrity. For more
information: www.cornucopia.org

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The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for
the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy and economic
development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through
marketplace initiatives. The Organic Integrity Project will act as a
corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of
organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of
profit. We will actively resist regulatory rollbacks and the weakening of
organic standards to protect and maintain consumer confidence in the organic
food label.

Mark A. Kastel
The Cornucopia Institute
kastel@cornucopia.org
608-625-2042 Voice
608-625-2043 Fax

P.O. Box 126
Cornucopia, Wisconsin 54827
www.cornucopia.org