dairy_cow1It’s just so wrong to see the words ‘illegal’ and ‘organic’ side by side. But according to recent reports on the state of organic dairy, a topic I’ve blogged about before, that’s exactly what’s happening.

At an emergency organic farmer rally held recently in West Salem, WI, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack heard emotional pleas from small and family-owned organic farmers fighting for survival: during the Bush administration, the USDA was accused of “looking the other way” as large corporate agribusinesses invested in organics while allegedly violating federal standards.  

Case in point

Aurora, operator of five factory farms in Colorado and Texas and the organic milk store-brand supplier for Wal-Mart, Target, Safeway, Costco and other national chains, was found to have “willfully” violated numerous organic regulations by USDA investigators in 2007.

In the dairy sector there are now estimated to be 20 large industrial dairies, each milking 1500-7000 cows, producing as much as 40% of the nation’s organic milk supply.  A glut of factory farm milk has flooded the organic dairy sector squeezing the incomes of family farmers as dairy processors cut payments and demand production cutbacks

The Secretary Speaks
Secretary Vilsack’s comments at the rally indicate that the farmers may have been successful in their mission:

“We are focusing on rules that will level the playing field so that small and medium size producers have a fair shot…We are, as you are, asking questions about how producers can make so little and how others who are in the chain can make so much,” said Vilsack.

Take Action
Use The Cornucopia Institute’s recently updated online scorecoard to make smarter consumer choices when buying your organic dairy products.

Take advantage of 110 ratings of all organic brands (listed alphabetically) based on their ethical and legal approach to milk production. While ‘big organic’ may be shortcutting the rules, the report shows that 90% of organic milk, cheese, butter and yogurt marketers are subscribing to the “spirit and letter of the organic regulations.”

It’s not just organic dairy farmers that are in danger: traditional dairy farmers are hurting too. Find out more – and how you can help –  here.

Read more and see a video clip of some of Tom Vilsack’s comments to learn more.