Danone, a multinational food company and the owner of Horizon Organic, announced it will terminate contracts next year with all of its organic dairy farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and parts of New York. They are replacing these farms with huge Western CAFOs capable of producing milk more cheaply. This will leave the New England farmers without buyers for their milk. And without hope.
Talking to some friends in Vermont a few years ago, they thought I was exaggerating when I said that the National Organic Program was in trouble. It seemed to them that organic farms were flourishing in Vermont. I asked, "Even the dairy farms?"
Well, no... Not the dairy farms.
We are all part of an international food system, a world food system. Lots of conventional grain from the American midwest is sold in other countries. Except for organic grain. It seems it is magically cheaper to grow certified organic grain in Turkey, Ukraine, and Argentina. 40% of the certified organic corn and 70% of the certified organic soy sold in America is imported.
And most of that imported grain is feeding animals in certified organic animal confinement operations. The kind of huge industrial CAFOs that are driving the real organic farms out of business. That imported grain is cheap. Too cheap for American grain farmers to compete with. It makes you wonder. Are they just better farmers in Turkey?
Wait. I thought that certified organic meant that the animals were pasture-fed. Well yes, it is supposed to mean that.
So what happens when milking cows in a confinement CAFO in Texas are fed ridiculously cheap grain? They can produce milk that is much cheaper than that of the real organic farms in New England, or California, or Wisconsin. And being ultra-pasteurized, that CAFO milk can be shipped anywhere in the country.
And suddenly the world changes. So those 90 farms, like many others in recent years, will probably go out of business. California has already lost over 10% of its organic dairy farms. All it took was an economic decision made in an office far, far away.
We can all grieve for the farmers facing this tsunami of economic destruction. But the loss extends to all of us.
You might say, “Well that is capitalism. Competition drives the less efficient producers out of business while the product becomes more affordable to everyone.”
But the dairy farmers in New England are literally producing a different product. They aren’t less efficient. They are just playing by different rules. They are, In fact, following the federal law as laid out in the Organic Food Production Act. It is the CAFOs who are breaking the law.
If a factory produces cheap products while poisoning the water, we don’t say, “They are efficient.” We say, “They are criminals.” We all accept that there are codes of conduct that we must insist on to protect the common good.
I ask you if you had a choice of living next to a Vermont dairy farm with pastoral fields filled with grazing cows or a Texas feedlot with an open sewer that made the air unbreathable, which would you choose? If you had a choice of feeding your kids the milk from the cows in those green fields or from the cows living in that reeking animal factory, which one would you buy?
Would you pay more for the milk from the pasture-raised cow?
What is happening right now is that you are being denied that choice at any price. Already that choice was pretty confusing because of false advertising, but now the industrial system is simply removing the choice from our stores.
The tsunami is hitting the farms. It is hitting all of us.
And worst of all is that Danone, the company that owns Horizon, is a B Corp. That means they are publicly dedicated to the triple bottom line. They have claimed that they will be motivated by more than profit. They are publicly committed to taking a deeper look at the ways in which their decisions benefit or harm….us, the animals, the water and air, our planet. In their own words: "As a Certified B Corporation®, Danone North America is committed to the creation of both economic and social value, while nurturing natural ecosystems through sustainable agriculture."
Apparently dropping real organic farms for industrial corporate fake organic CAFOs is not a problem for them.
What do we do now?
Dave & Linley, Real Organic Project