Organic Consumers Association


Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!


Group Files Complaint to USDA on "Factory-Style Dairy Farms" Certified as Organic

Contact: Mark Kastel - 608-625-2042
Tony Azevedo

The Cornucopia Institute Alleges Factory Farms
Violating Federal Organic Law

CORNUCOPIA, WISCONSIN: The Cornucopia Institute, today, filed a formal
complaint with the USDA¹s National Organic Program asking them to initiate
an investigation into alleged violations of the federal organic law by a
factory farm operating in Colorado. At issue is whether it is legal to
confine cows in an industrial setting, without access to pasture, and still
label milk and dairy products organic. Similar factory farm operations in
Idaho and California are also under investigation by The Cornucopia
Institute and will likely be targeted with formal complaints to the USDA in
the near future

"We have been interested in these confined animal feeding operations, or
CAFOs, for some time," said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst, at the
Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, a progressive farm policy research
group. As demand for organic milk has skyrocketed, investors have built
large industrial farms mimicking what has become the standard paradigm in
the conventional dairy industry. "It is our contention that you cannot milk
3000­6000 cows and offer them true access to pasture as required by the
Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the law that governs all domestic
organic farming and food processing," said Kastel.

This week the Chicago Tribune published an investigative report that
compared the 5600-cow Aurora Dairy in Colorado to a more traditional 70-cow
organic farm in central Wisconsin. One of the owners of the large Colorado
farm, in Platteville, Colorado, Mark Retzloff, has justified an exemption
from the requirement for pasture based on not enough rain in the area to
support it. Federal law does give the farmer the ability to remove cows
from pasture for "temporary" reasons based on weather, environmental, or
health considerations. However, in their complaint, The Cornucopia
Institute countered that the claim that pasture is impractical, or not
cost-effective, in arid Colorado is no excuse under the law.

"There are many places in the United States that are not ecologically
compatible with livestock agriculture. If the Aurora dairy cannot
incorporate a meaningful amount of pasture into their operation, because
they are located in an extremely dry, arid region, that is no excuse for
them to scoff at the organic regulations," Cornucopia's Kastel said.

"This just puts rank-and-file organic dairy producers, who are operating
with integrity, at a competitive disadvantage," said Tony Azevedo, a Mercied
County, California, dairy farmer. Azevedo, who ships his milk to the
Organic Valley marketing cooperative, was the first certified organic dairy
producer in the San Joaquin Valley. "Pasture is the cornerstone of organic
dairy farming. It is a great way to protect the soil, create wildlife
habitat, and makes an ideal filter system Azevedo. There is also evidence that pastured cows are healthier than cows
that are routinely confined.

In addition, what cows eat affects the nutrients in their milk. The Danish
Institute of Agricultural Research recently reported that organic
milk higher in omega-3 fatty acids, and 200%­300% higher in antioxidants than
conventional milk. "The quality of our milk, and our production practices,
is the very essence of why consumers are willing to pay a premium for our
product," the California dairyman affirmed.

The Cornucopia Institute said in their communiqué that they expect the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, state agencies, and the independent certifiers
responsible for oversight and enforcement to take this formal complaint very
seriously and to respond in a timely manner.

"The consumers in this country, who go out of their way to purchase organic
milk believe they are supporting an environmentally sound system of
agriculture, humane animal husbandry practices, and family-scale farmers.
The USDA needs to deal decisively with corporations who pay lip service to
the ethics of organic agriculture at the expense of family farmers and the
consumers who so loyally support them," stated Kastel.

­ 30 ­

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 acts 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
608-625-2042 Voice
608-625-2043 Fax

P.O. Box 126
Cornucopia, Wisconsin 54827

TO: Eileen Broomell, Office of Compliance, National Organic Program
RE: Complaint concerning violation of the NOP pasture rule by the Aurora
Dairy Farm in Colorado

Dear Ms. Broomell,

The Cornucopia Institute is filing this complaint with your office
concerning the apparent violation of the pasture rules for ruminants by the
Aurora Organic Dairy Farm located near Platteville, Colorado. We are asking
that you investigate this complaint and undertake all warranted enforcement
actions to bring this dairy into compliance with NOP pasture rules in a
timely fashion.

Specifically, we believe that the Aurora Organic Dairy Farm is violating the
spirit and intent of portions of the following Subpart C provisions of the
NOP regulations:

§ 205.237 Livestock feed.

(a) The producer of an organic livestock operation must provide livestock
with a total feed ration composed of agricultural products, including
pasture and forage, that are organically produced and, if applicable,
organically handled S (emphasis added)

§ 205.238 Livestock health care practice standard
(3) Establishment of appropriate housing, pasture conditions, and sanitation
practices to minimize the occurrence and spread of diseases and parasites;
(emphasis added),

(4) Provision of conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement,
and reduction of stress appropriate to the species;

§ 205.239 Livestock living conditions.

(a) The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and
maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and
natural behavior of animals, including (emphasis added):

(1) 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;

(2) Access to pasture for ruminants;

The Cornucopia Institute contends that the Aurora Organic Dairy Farm¹s
allotment of a reported 135- to 250-acre dry exercise lot with no
appreciative feed value for 5600 cows does not provide sufficient acreage
for fulfilling the pasture feed component and the requirement for access to
the outdoors for sunlight, exercise, the promotion of animal health and the
reduction of stress. Additional support for this complaint is provided in
the Chicago Tribune¹s January 10, 2005, story, ³Organic Milk Debate: Dairies
Dispute `Organic' Value.²

We understand that certified organic dairy operations can remove cows from
pasture for "temporary" considerations based on weather, environmental, or
health considerations as noted in the following portion of Subpart C:

§ 205.239 Livestock living conditions

(b) The producer of an organic livestock operation may provide temporary
confinement for an animal because of:

(1) Inclement weather;

(2) The animal's stage of production;

(3) Conditions under which the health, safety, or well being of the animal
could be jeopardized; or

(4) Risk to soil or water quality.

The Cornucopia Institute contends, however, that climatic conditions an arid climate, which makes pasture impractical or not
cost-effective pasture rule.

Furthermore, principals of the large dairies have alluded to the fact that
they are taking advantage of the "stage of production" provision above cows. It is our view that this is a gross distortion of the regulations,
which never intended to eliminate pasture as a key feed component during the
vast majority of a cow¹s productive life.

The Aurora Organic Dairy Farm has been certified by the Colorado Department
of Agriculture¹s Division of Plant Industry (phone: 303-239-4149).

The Aurora Organic Dairy Farm¹s contact information from their most recent
certification form is:

Dr. Juan Velez
7388 State Highway 66
Platteville, CO 80651
970-535-4589 ­ Fax
Certification Issued: 12/05/03

The Cornucopia Institute also believes that similar violations of the
Subpart C pasture provisions are occurring on certified dairy operations in
Idaho and California. We are investigating and collecting additional
information on these farms and intend to file formal complaints regarding
their violations with your office in the near future.

Please keep The Cornucopia Institute apprised of the status of and progress
of your investigation of this formal complaint. We take this matter very
seriously. Farmers who have made the difficult conversion to organics and
consumers who are paying premium prices for organic foods rely upon the USDA
and its approved certifying agents to uniformly and fairly enforce the
nation¹s organic law.

Lastly, pursuant to Subpart C and the following provision:

§ 205.680 General.

(a) Persons subject to the Act who believe they are adversely affected by
a noncompliance decision of the National Organic Program's Program Manager
may appeal such decision to the Administrator.

It should be noted that nothing in this formal complaint shall be
interpreted as a waiver of our right to appeal under the Adverse Action
Appeals Process cited above.

You may contact us at your convenience.


Will Fantle
Director of Research
The Cornucopia Institute
PO Box 126
Cornucopia, WI 54827