Environmentalists, sustainable agriculture advocate and farmers have all been stressing the same thing for years: Buy Organic. But earlier this week, a fiasco involving one of the largest organic cattle producers in the country proves that just looking for the ‘USDA Organic’ label won’t protect you from foods manufactured with questionable practices, pesticides, hormones, and other nasty stuff.
In a statement released yesterday by the Cornucopia Institute, one of the agricultural industry’s most aggressive independent watchdogs, it was revealed that Promiseland, a multimillion dollar operation with facilities in Missouri and Nebraska, including over 13,000 acres of crop land, and managing 22,000 head of beef and dairy cattle, has been accused of multiple improprieties in formal legal complaints, including not feeding organic grain to cattle, selling fraudulent organic feed and “laundering” conventional cattle as organic.
Promiseland Livestock, LLC, was suspended from organic commerce, along with its owner and key employees, for four years. The penalty was part of an order issued by administrative law judge Peter Davenport in Washington, DC on November 25.
Many people think that because a product bears the USDA organic label, it came from a sunny farm where the animals are all happy and well cared for. But the recent decertification of one of the industry’s largest companies demonstrates that all was not well at Promiseland.
The Cornucopia investigation, which the Bush administration tried to squash as early as 2005, found that Promiseland sold thousands of dairy cows to giant factory dairy farms owned by Dean Foods (Horizon Organic), Natural Prairie Dairy in Texas and Aurora Dairy based in Colorado. Aurora and Natural Prairie supply private-label, store-brand milk for Wal-Mart, Costco, Target and major supermarket chains such as HEB, Safeway and Harris Teeter.
“It appears that it was the investigation into improprieties by Aurora that finally led to the hammer coming down on Promiseland,” Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute observed.
Aurora operates five dairies in Texas and Colorado and was found by USDA investigators to have “willfully” violated 14 tenets of federal organic regulations in 2007. However, Bush administration officials let the $100 million corporate dairy continue in operation under a one-year probation.
It is important to realize that although the USDA sets the standards for what makes a farm organic or not, they are very rarely involved in the hands on parts of the certification process. More often, independent domestic accredited certifying agents are brought in by the companies to make sure that they are satisfying all the necessary requirements. Consumers must take an active interest in the companies that make their food, and choose small, local producers whenever possible.
New documents made public have prompted Cornucopia to prepare additional legal complaints asking the USDA to focus attention now on Quality Assurance International (QAI), the certifier for Promiseland and Dean Foods when many of the alleged abuses took place.
Image Credit: Tim Psych