Why The Organic Label Isn’t Good Enough

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

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Chelsea Buck
Chelsea B.5 years ago

hmm. interesting.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p.5 years ago

thankyou for the article, an eyeopener

Marishka k.
Marishka k.5 years ago

yes it's true
grow what you can at home

James Carpenter
Past Member 5 years ago

I think people forget one big point, the word organic in shops is a big money maker for both town shops and farm shops.
I love reading go to you local organic farm shop to buy your safe meat, have you walk around the farm, look in all the buildings, see where the animals are killed if not you just have the farmers word that its organic.
Most farm animals are not kill on the farm in the UK and it the same with organic, they go to the same place, are kill in the same way, then cut up by the same people at the sametime & cost, and they do not clean down between the animals.
the only way that you will know if anything is oganic is to grow it at home!

Leah D.
Leah Duggan5 years ago

Thanks for the info

Teresa Mac Tavish


Jeff J.
Richard N.5 years ago

Thank you good info....

Deborah B.
Deborah B.5 years ago

Many items as produce that carry the Green and White Organic label come from Canada and Mexico. Dairy, eggs and meat labeled as organic is in such demand now and being factory farmed as the rest. They even wind up in the same slaughterhouses. No, Daisey and Bossie are not strolling around the pasture untainted by pesticides with clean drinking water available under a bright blue sky with sunshine. Thanks for sharing this article. Factory farming is one of my crusades and it is discouraging to hear people state that they select the organic label thinking that they have avoided animal products that are the result of animal cruelty. Cornucopia is excellent as a reference. Again, thank you for bringing this urgent issue to the attention of all.

Donna P.
Donna Price5 years ago

Be careful Lisa Bee as Horizon isn't as great as you may think. I am fortunate that I live in a community that is able to get its milk, whipping cream, half&half etc from a company in Nebraska and it even comes in glass bottles just like the milkman use to bring to my front door. This company is awesome.

Rozlyn R.
Rozlyn R.5 years ago

Thanks for the article. It's a good reason to buy from local artisan farmers at farmers' markets when you can't grown your own. I'm a city dweller and even some of my friends are growing deck or balcony gardens. Since I come from a family who started using a health store back in the 50's, I've always know that even with organic foods, you MUST read the label, not just for the fat content or the calorie count. Trust your instincts and don't just laugh off that this food may be bad for you. If you think it's bad for you, more than likely, it's bad for the planet as well. A closer connection to the growers of food and the people who raise animals and fish can really give you a different experience of shopping and eating. Good for all of us.