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Horizon "Organic" Factory Farm Accused of Improprieties, Again

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This past December, after WhiteWave announced to its shareholders a $7.4 million write-down of the asset, it sold its corporate-owned industrial dairy to private investors in Idaho, although its Horizon brand continues to purchase its milk output.

"There is no statute of limitations in terms of enforcing federal organic standards," said Kastel.  "We are asking the USDA to reopen our original complaints and fully investigate our new allegations that the cows on this dairy produced unreasonable amounts of milk based on skirting the requirement that they be fully grazed."

In 2008 the dairy publication The Milkweed published test results comparing brands of organic milk for nutritional compounds that make the milk healthier and are indicative of the amount of grazing time cattle are provided.  The top-rated brand was Cedar Summit, distributing milk in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  The lowest was Aurora Organic Dairy, an organization based in Colorado depending exclusively on factory farms and supplying private-label organic milk to Walmart, Costco, Target and other chains.  One notch up from the bottom was the Horizon brand.

"WhiteWave continues to purchase milk from giant factory dairies in addition to many family farmers.  WhiteWave's family farm suppliers are, we believe, just as ethical as the farmers supplying other brands," Kastel affirmed.  "But the Horizon brand depends on giant CAFOs, milking thousands of cows each, for a large percentage of their production and that impacts the quality and nutritional value of all their products."

"Small organic dairies nationwide have struggled with drought, flooding and oppressive heat. Still, we have pastured our cattle as required by the National Organic Program (NOP)," said Jim Goodman, who milks 45 cows near Wonewoc, Wisconsin.  "We have provided a product that consumers expect when they buy organic and we make it work economically -- without cutting corners."

"If factory farm organic dairies are unwilling or unable to meet the NOP's pasture provisions," Goodman said, "then perhaps it is time they are notified that their continued noncompliance to the National Organic Standards has gone on too long and they should seek a non-organic market for their milk."



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Added Kevin Engelbert, a former USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) member:  "When I was on the Board, I was continually being reminded that the recommendations we made must be scale neutral.  I think it's high time that enforcement of the National Rule be scale neutral as well."

According to a February 2014 article in the authoritative dairy publication, Hoard's Dairyman, organic dairies are feeling a squeeze with the pay price holding constant for the past three years while enduring exceedingly high feed costs.  Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, told the publication that the two main buyers and processors of organic milk "show no inclination to raise prices" paid to farmers to help them cover their increased production costs.

NOTE:  WhiteWave reported increased sales in its February 13 corporate earnings call and projected annualized income, after their recent acquisition of the organic produce giant Earthbound Farms, of approximately $2.5 million.  Wall Street reacted positively pushing its share value up by approximately 8%.

Given his reported stock holding in the company (1,684,358 shares), CEO Gregg Engles pocketed almost $4 million in increased equity on the 13th (his total WhiteWave stock value is worth $44.5 million).  Not a bad day's wages.  This at a time when many of the dairy farmers shipping to WhiteWave/Horizon are struggling to make ends meet (especially in California where they are facing severe drought conditions and paying exorbitant prices for feed).

In addition to products aimed at health-conscious consumers, WhiteWave also manufactures or distributes Land O Lakes extended shelf life products, dairy products, International Delight nondairy coffee creamer and is just introducing a line of creamers under the Dunkin' Donuts label.

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I work for The Cornucopia Institute. We are a non-profit that works to protect sustainable/organic food and small-scale farming. We often write press releases surrounding what is happening in the industry and what our research discovers. You can (more...)

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