More Organic Dairy Battles

A few weeks ago, I posted about the growing pains organic dairy farmers are experiencing as demand for their products continues to rise. According to the Des Moines Register, some farmers are dealing with that growth in ways that look an awful lot like the practices of large, non-organic corporate farms:

Contented cows lazing on rolling green hills. That is the idyllic image that many consumers have of the farms where organic milk is produced.

The reality is becoming something different. With consumer demand for organic food booming, organic farms are starting to look a lot like the megafarms that now dominate the conventional dairy industry – collections of barns housing thousands of cows that spend most of their lives eating feed, not grass.

Organic milk produced by a new megafarm in Colorado sells for $3.19 per half-gallon in the Washington, D.C., area, as much as $1.10 less than the cost of some national brands. At Des Moines supermarkets, organic milk typically ranges from $2.75 to $4.29 for a half-gallon.

This is turning into a battle as the board that advises the Department of Agriculture on organic standards has proposed a rule that requires cattle producing organic milk are kept in pasture for a significant portion of the year: “It won’t be enough just to give cattle organic feed, which is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.”

Large-scale dairies and even some smaller-scale Midwestern farmers said the standards could be difficult to meet. Advocates of the rule changes said they will protect the industry’s image and keep family farms in business.

“As a consumer, I want my organic milk to come from cows that are not confined,” said Caron Osberg , an Urbandale woman who reviews organic and natural products on a Web site, www.ahealthylifeshop.com. “No compromise on that.”

This is an interesting debate to watch, as we’re still seeing the concept of “organic” develop. What do you think? Is a feedlot approach sufficient, or must organic standards also include grazing requirements? Does the lower price justify the processes of the larger operations (we’ve discussed the normally high prices of organic foods, and ianqui had some insightful comments on her blog [which I’m having a hell of time finding… Where’s your archive, i.?] Also, Grist has an article up this week on the cost issue)? Finally, is this a question of image over substance? I don’t know the answers to these questions, though I must say that I tend to side with the group arguing against feedlot practices…

On a related note, the USDA has apparently changed course on it’s rejection of non-food products for organic certification… From Soapwire.

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