Monday, July 10, 2017

Large firms that are squeezing organic-milk farmers may not follow the same grazing standards

Amish organic farmer Eldon T. Miller of Kalona, Iowa,
packs eggs. (Washington Post photo by Rachel Mummey)
Amish dairy farmers who produce organic milk may soon be priced out of a living by large organic-milk operations – some of which may not be meeting organic grazing standards, Peter Whoriskey reports for The Washington Post.

Organic milk's increasing popularity has led large-scale dairy farms to get into the act, causing prices to fall, and with it, the paychecks of small organic farmers already operating with thin profit margins. In Kalona, Iowa, more than 90 farms in a 10-mile radius produce milk as well as eggs, corn and soybeans. But because of a glut of organic milk from large operations, "over the past year, the price of wholesale organic milk sold by Kalona farms has dropped by more than 33 percent. Some of their milk – as much as 15 percent of it – is being sold at the same price as regular milk or just dumped onto the ground," Whoriskey reports.

In June 2017, an investigative report by Whoriskey found that Aurora Organic Dairy in Colorado, one of the country's largest organic dairy producers and a supplier for Walmart, Costco and Albertsons, may not be allowing its cows to graze on grass enough to meet organic standards. Consumers pay more for milk from grass-fed cows because they believe it is healthier for the cows and makes for better milk. But grass-fed cows also produce less milk, so organic farms have an incentive to feed them grain on the sly, Whoriskey reports in his latest story.

The amount of organic milk on the market has risen disproportionately to the number of organic cows, suggesting that many organic farmers are secretly giving their cows grain. Some say that the increase in milk may be due in part to farmers reducing the amount of grazing the cow gets to the minimum required by organic regulations, Whoriskey reports.

The Agriculture Department uses inspectors hired by the farmers to investigate whether its organic standards are being met, but many argue that the department doesn't punish violators enough or at all. "The USDA has shown a remarkable lack of interest in whether these big organic dairies are really organic," Mark Kastel of the small-farm watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute told Whoriskey. USDA said it is reviewing the information from Post's investigation.

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