September 3, 2008
I'm not a proponent or opponent of organic milk. Deep down, I believe milk is milk. All milk sold to consumers, whether it is organic, rBST-free, or just plain milk is equally wholesome and nutritious.
Although my family drinks just plain milk, I believe there's a need for organic milk even though organic milk accounts for only about 2% of total milk sales in this country. There is a segment of society who no matter what they read, or what they are told, believe organic milk is superior to rBST-free milk and just plain milk. They get a warm, fuzzy feeling every time they plunk down $6.50 for a gallon of organic milk. I don't have a problem with that. If they can afford to pay double what families pay for just plain milk, more power to them. By purchasing organic milk, they think they are making the world a better place to live in and they are ensuring that their families are drinking nothing but the best. For their $6.50, they trust they are buying milk "produced by family farmers in harmony with nature without antibiotics, synthetic hormones or pesticides," just like the home page on the Organic Valley Web site states. Organic Valley's home page goes on to say, "Our animals are raised humanely and given certified organic feed – never any animal by-products – and our pastures are certified organic."
Public's trust violated
However, that trust between La Farge-based Organic Valley and their customers was recently violated when it was revealed earlier this year that Organic Valley was quietly getting some of its milk from a Texas dairy milking more than 7,200 cows.
The controversy revolves around the fact that this 7,200-cow dairy does not provide pasture for their cows and they expanded their herd with year-old heifers raised on conventional feed that was produced with pesticides. The heifers were also given antibiotics and other drugs banned in organic milk production. As dairy producers know, these drugs, including antibiotics, cause no harm to the future milk produced by those heifers because it lasts in their systems less than 72 hours. But according to organic watchdog Mark Kastel of The Cornicopia Institute in Madison, the farm was treading a fine line with its organic certification.
The problem is there are more than 1,000 family farm members whose livelihoods depend on Organic Valley's reputation.
"Buying milk from this factory farm could potentially be catastrophic to our marketplace reputation," says Darlene Coehoorn, a longtime Organic Valley member from Rosendale who milks 50 cows with her husband, Dan. "What I find most objectionable is the fact that some giant dairy that doesn't even qualify for membership in our co-op can get by with the bare minimum of meeting federal organic standards, but family producers are expected to uphold the high standards set forth by Organic Valley," Coehoorn adds. I couldn't agree more.
On July 16, Organic Valley stopped buying milk from the 7,200-cow dairy in Texas. While that's a step in the right direction, it will be some time if ever before Organic Valley can restore their reputation.
What Organic Valley has done is betrayed consumer trust.
And if that consumer who is paying $6.50 a gallon for organic milk finds out they were getting just plain milk instead, they might wonder why they were paying double for something that costs half as much and tastes the same.
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