Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

What If All US Dairies Were to Go Organic?

The use of recombinant bovine growth hormone would come to an end and we would finally see a reduction in the cancer rates that rBGH is correlated with -- and a reduction in Eli Lilly’s bottom line.

Routine, non-therapeutic antibiotic use would be cut drastically, damaging the profits of the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture antibiotics for the factory farm industry, and there would be fewer antibiotic-resistant infections.

500 billion pounds of manure that would otherwise be collected at factory farms, spread thickly on agricultural lands, runoff into our sewage system, and contaminate our land and water with pathogens and chemical residues, would instead be absorbed naturally into lush pastures that sequester carbon and filter ground water.

Less non-organic feed would be grown, and cows would primarily forage on pasture. This would drastically reduce the acreage of field crops, most of which are fed to animals, that are genetically modified crops, drenched in herbicides and fertilized with synthetic chemicals or toxic sewage sludge. Instead, the land could be used to grow organic food for humans or be converted to pasture. (This would hurt Cargill, the largest feed company, and the other suppliers of grain to the dairy industry.) Dairies would likely get smaller, creating more ownership opportunities for small farmers and entrepreneurial opportunities in local processing and distribution. (This would reduce the market share and profits of massive agribusinesses like Dean Foods, the nation's largest milk company.)

According to data compiled by the Organic Center, if each of the nation's 8.5 million milking dairy cows were fed organically they would require 6.3 acres each of land managed organically in producing the forages, feed grains, and protein supplements, for a total of 53.55 million acres of organic land. Assuming all of that land would otherwise be managed conventionally, this would save 2.7 billion pounds of synthetic nitrogen and 52.3 million pounds of pesticides.

Obviously, this isn't what the manufacturers of genetically modified organisms, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and genetically-engineered growth hormones have in mind.

One way agribusiness is trying to minimize the impact of the organic revolution is by weakening organic standards. Right out of the gate, agribusiness, working with the Clinton administration's Islam Siddiqui (recently tapped by the Obama administration to leave his post at the pesticide lobby CropLife and return to government), tried to destroy organic by opening the standards up to toxic sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering. Once we beat them back, they adopted subtler methods.

Most recently, the effort has been to weaken the dairy pasture requirement. This issue is coming to a head, as we go to press, and we urge you to CLICK HERE to learn more and take action:

If organic dairy standards didn't require pasture, it would be very easy for the factory farm dairies to dabble in organic production. They could keep the cows in the feedlots, switch them to organically-grown feed and refrain from shooting them up with hormones and antibiotics.

That's progress, certainly, but it's a far cry from the revolutionary change that organic could bring.

Unfortunately, because of costs and convenience, the organic mega-dairies that have so far skirted full compliance with the pasture requirement would love to see their feedlot dairy practices enshrined in USDA regulations. The Cornucopia Institute is tracking their efforts to weaken organic dairy standards. They've got the latest in today's press release, "Organic Family Dairies Being Crushed by Rogue Factory Farms."

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