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Supermarket Organic Brands And Their Suppliers Violate Federal Standards: Cornucopia Institute Sues Brands For Fraud

May 6, 2015

Most of us like to eat organic foods, even if they cost more, assuming that the label “organic” means specific things, for instance, that farm workers won’t be exposed to insane amounts of pesticides, that animals won’t be fed antibiotics instead of food to fatten them up, that milk cows and layer hens will have access to being outdoors, AND that these standards will be enforced. A new report by the Cornucopia Institute details exactly how groups like Horizon (White Wave f00ds) and other agrigiants claiming  organic labels are failing and how the USDA knows this but does nothing to stop it.

In the case of the Horizon dairy in Paul, Idaho (WhiteWave), instead of the USDA sending its own agents to investigate complaints against the operation, the USDA sent in the same certifier that initially approved the operation to investigate alleged improprieties.

“This is just unconscionable,” said Kastel. “In this instance, the certifier, Quality Assurance International, has been implicated in a number of other improprieties. Our thorough investigation and legal complaint indicated this dairy, with no pasture, never should have been certified in the first place. The job of the USDA is to oversee the certifiers and ensure that they are doing their job. It is quite possible that, in this case, there could have been a conspiracy and/or negligence that the certifier was responsible for.”

Not only are the supposed organic purveyors claiming to be organic but failing to follow federal protocols, these organic purveyors are knowingly breaking the law about labeling food organic that is not produced according to organic standards and making a killing.

In what has been called one of the largest fraud investigations in the history of the organic industry, The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, announced filing formal legal complaints against 14 industrial livestock operations producing milk, meat and eggs being marketed, allegedly illegally, as organic.

After years of inaction by the USDA, Cornucopia contracted for aerial photography in nine states, from West Texas to New York and Maryland, over the past eight months. What they found confirmed earlier site visits: a systemic pattern of corporate agribusiness interests operating industrial-scale confinement livestock facilities providing no legitimate grazing, or even access to the outdoors, as required by federal organic regulations.

A photo gallery of the apparent abuses by the giant certified organic operations in question can be found at

“The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. “The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100% of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots.”

These companies are committing fraud and have been getting away with it. Shamrock Dairy, which supplies milk to retail giants like Costco and Wal-Mart has been found guilty of selling milk under the organic label while violating organic animal management standards, and Shamrock has continued to do so without oversight:

Cornucopia filed their first legal complaints against these industrial operations, with varying degrees of success, beginning in 2004. As a result, the largest dairy supplying the Horizon label (now controlled by WhiteWave Foods) was decertified, and the USDA placed sanctions against Aurora Dairy (producing private-label organic milk for Walmart,Costco, Target and various supermarket chains). Both WhiteWave and Aurora are still being investigated by the USDA for improprieties.

But the wheels of justice, according to Cornucopia, are now turning slowly or not at all. One example is Arizona-based Shamrock, which operates a vertically-integrated dairy in the desert outside of Phoenix that jointly manages over 16,000 organic and conventional cows. The USDA eventually confirmed the basis of a complaint filed in 2008 by the nonprofit public interest group, finding the dairy operating illegally — but not until 2011, three years after the complaint was filed. Now, more than six years later, Shamrock still has a pending appeal and is still selling milk in the Southwest undercutting ethical farmers and competitors that comply with federal organic law.

What’s a conscientious consumer to do?Check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Scorecard. It lists to what degree these larger brands comply with organic standards:

The organization recommends consumers consult Cornucopia’s organic brand scorecards so they can choose from the many organic brands that partner with farmers and that truly deliver on the promise of better environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, and economic justice for the families who produce organic food.



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