How now, organic cow?
Do you allow your cows to pasture?
In compliance with the USDA Organic Regulations, all Horizon Organic cows have access to nutritious pasture during the seasons of the year when it is available. For example, in Maryland, the entire herd (of about 698 cows) have daily access to 120 acres of well-managed perennial grass pasture which makes up a significant portion of their diet from March through December.
From Horizon Organic Dairy's FAQ
According to The Cornucopia Institute, that's a lie--or at least a legalistic twisting of the truth. The Wisconsin-based group, which dedicates itself to fighting "for economic justice for the family-scale farming community," has been campaigning against what it calls "large industrial dairy farms producing 'organic' milk.' "
It's taken its case straight to the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees organic-certification code. Miraculously, Cornucopia won over an FDA advisory panel, which recommended tightening rules regarding milk cows' access to pasture. What the FDA will actually do with the recommendation remains in doubt. As reported here, Bush recently appointed a shameless industry tout as head of the FDA.
Access to pasture lies at the heart of any meaningful definition of organic cattle-raising. I don't have time to spell out why, so I'll defer to two great authorities on pasture grazing: Virginia meat farmer Joel Salitin and NY State dairy farmer/cheese maker Jonathan White.
Cornucopia contends that Horizon is subjecting certified-organic dairy cows to feedlot conditions at two industrial-style operations, one in Idaho and one in California.
"According to reports, both the Idaho and California operations differ little from conventional confinement dairies other than having their high-producing cows fed certified organic feed," says Mark Kastel, Cornocopia's senior farm policy analyst, in a press release. "Real organic farms have made great financial investments in converting to pasture-based production — enhancing the nutritional properties of the milk and for enhancing animal health—while it appears that these large corporate-dominated enterprises are happy just to pay lip service to required organic ethics."
The group has launched an "Organic Integrity Project," which will act as a "corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. We will actively resist regulatory rollbacks and the weakening of organic standards to protect and maintain consumer confidence in the organic food label."