A little research on dairy has started us on our way to developing food policies and standards for the Coop. Of the national distributors, Organic Valley and Clover Farms are among those with the higher ratings, four cows.
Three Twins Organic, a delicious organic ice cream manufactured in California, is also highly rated. Of particular note is Coonridge Diary, a local, New Mexico dairy, which was rated five cows, their highest rating, for raw goat milk. Trader Joe’s is among those with the lowest ratings. Horizon is at the very bottom. To find out exactly what the ratings are based on, link to Cornucopia Institute’s dairy survey.
The Cornucopia Institute’s study focused on organic dairy with careful attention to where the organic milk was sourced and how herd replacement animals are acquired. The organic label requires that cows be managed organically from the last third of gestation. Dairies with lower ratings often purchase their replacement cows when they are a year or more old, sometimes from conventional farms. Pasture time with adequate acreage was also surveyed.
Those rated “1” cow out of “5” cows, from lowest to highest quality, were those companies that did not respond to the survey and answer questions about where their milk was sourced, including Trader Joe’s. The Institute points out that there is an inherent limitation in private-label organic products. Organic consumers tend to want to know where their food is coming from and how it is produced, and private-label products are anonymous by their nature. As a case in point, although over 80% of the name-brand organic dairy marketers responded to their survey and are rated in their dairy report, not one of the private-label marketers was willing to tell consumers, openly, where its organic milk was purchased.
Their assessment of Horizon was scathing; they gave them zero cows. The largest selling organic milk brand, Horizon, was purchased by Dean Foods, a giant agribusiness specializing in dairy products, with almost $11 billion in sales, also the largest conventional dairy marketer in the country. Horizon operates two corporate-owned farms, in Maryland and Idaho. Their Idaho facility, milking 4000–5000 cows, was originally a conventional factory-dairy that they converted to organic production. It has, according to widespread industry reports, very little access to pasture. Unlike the majority of all organic dairy farmers in the United States, who concentrate on the health and longevity of their cows, caring for them from birth, the Dean/Horizon Idaho farm sells off all their calves. Later, presumably to save money on organic feed and management, they buy one-year-old conventional animals on the open market. These replacements likely have received conventional milk replacer (made with blood—considered to be a “mad cow” risk), antibiotics, other prohibited pharmaceuticals, and genetically engineered feed. Many practices on a farm of this nature put ethical family-scale organic farmers at a competitive disadvantage. In addition, Dean/Horizon purchases milk from other industrial-scale farms, some of which have a history of alleged labor abuses.
Here is what Cornucopia Institute has to say about Straus, a venerable old producer of European style dairy and Organic Valley. Personally, I love Straus’ heavy cream which, especially when hand whipped, has a glorious texture, and I’ve always preferred the taste of Organic Valley.
2013 UPDATE: Though well-respected as one of the first organic dairies in the West, events at Straus Dairy since the initial publication of our organic dairy scorecard have been troubling. However, we are cautiously optimistic that things are changing for the better and we hope that after a site visit we will be able to upgrade the dairy in the scorecard. The vast majority of all organic dairy farmers around the country, and the groups that represent them (in addition to The Cornucopia Institute the three regional producer groups: Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Midwest Organic Producers Association and the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance), and the Organic Consumers Association, among others, all came to a consensus regarding new rules at the USDA designed to require and ensure genuine, season-long grazing of ALL organic dairy cows.
However, Albert Straus, Straus Dairy owner, testified publicly against the rule making. Appearing on a panel at a symposium sponsored by the USDA on pasture in State College, Pennsylvania, Mr. Straus complained that he would be unable to graze his animals, even at the very low minimums proposed, because of the climate. Other dairy farmers from California on the panel challenged his contention and suggested that maybe he needed to reduce the size of his herd so it was compatible with the amount of pasture acreage he had available. It’s troubling that Straus Dairy would lobby against rule making that would help crack down on the giant corporate dairies that have been skirting the law.
In addition, with great fanfare, Straus Dairy announced that they were generating electricity on the farm from animal waste using a methane digester. The only problem with this technology is… it only works financially when you have lots of manure collected from cows when they are in confinement. A steady supply of manure is needed to run these systems that require hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment. You can’t run them effectively when your cattle are depositing their own manure, as fertilizer, out in your pastures.
Until recently Straus Dairy milked their cows three times a day, unlike almost every other organic dairy in the country, most of whom find it challenging enough moving cows in and out of pasture twice a day. This is consistent with running a high-production dairy operation, which is very hard on the health and longevity of the cattle, but produces more milk. Recently, the dairy’s owner, Albert Straus, stated publicly they had changed to two times a day milking. Now that the USDA is implementing tougher pasturing requirements for dairy cattle, despite the lobbying campaign by factory farms and Straus, we will reevaluate their ranking in 2011 based on their compliance with the law.
The Straus family operates a processing plant and buys additional milk from four neighboring dairies. Their brand is widely distributed in California and, after some represented improvements, has a four-cow rating in our study.
They write, “Straus Family Creamery, the first Organic Dairy west of the Mississippi has been producing artisan organic dairy products for over a decade. Straus European-style organic butter is used by leading gourmet restaurants across the country. Straus small-batch super premium organic ice cream, the newest addition to the product line, is available in vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, coffee, and chocolate mint. Straus European-style yogurts are generating rave reviews.
Overall, Organic Valley receives a high rating from Cornucopia Institute. They do, however, use carrageenans in their chocolate milk and their “Ultra Pasturized” cream. Carrageenans are linear sulfated polysaccharides that are extracted from red seaweeds. Their main application is in dairy and meat products, due to their strong interactions with protein. Carrageenan is a vegetarian and vegan alternative to gelatin. Some physicians advise avoiding consumption of foods with carrageenan, especially for people with gastrointestinal symptoms. They are widely used in the food industry, for their gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties. Scientists have raised serious concerns about the safety of carrageenan in food, based on laboratory animal studies showing gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcerations and colitis-like disease in animals given food-grade carrageenan in their drinking water or diet. The animal studies done in 1981 have not been verified by other researchers.
|Organic Valley (CROPP)|
The CROPP Cooperative, starting with cheese, was the first nationwide, commercial organic dairy processor and marketer. Starting with seven dairy farms, they now have hundreds of farmers in all regions of the country and manufacturer a full line of products including milk, butter, cheese, etc. The cooperative also markets milk and other dairy products to manufacturers as ingredients in processed organic food. In addition, they package milk for a number of private-label/store brands around the country.
They write: CROPP (Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools) is a farmer-owned cooperative, dedicated to bringing our member-owners’ certified organic products to market under the brand names of Organic Valley Family of Farms for dairy, juice, eggs, produce, and soy, and Organic Prairie for beef, pork, and poultry.In an era where corporations dominate all facets of business including government, global energy, agriculture, and global food supply, CROPP Cooperative serves small farmers and rural community health. Our cooperative was founded to nurture local communities by keeping farmers on the land, farming.