The Cornucopia Institute announced its intend to file a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), accusing the agency of failing to enforce federal laws about the labeling of organic foods. The impending lawsuit is the latest salvo in a seven-year-long dispute between organic family farmers and the USDA.
At the center of the controversy are two major agribusiness corporations, Dean Foods and Aurora Dairy. Dean’s Horizon brand and private-label milk produced by Aurora (marketed by Safeway, Wild Oats, Trader Joe’s and Wal- Mart) have gained a dominant market share, estimated as high as 70 percent, by ramping up production on feedlot dairies milking as many as 2000 to 10,000 cows, according to the institute.
The farms have been accused of confining their animals instead of pasturing them as the organic regulations require, and are therefore in violation of federal law, said David Cox, a Columbus, Ohio-based attorney representing Cornucopia on other matters involving the USDA and organic certifiers.
“There are five sections in the federal organic standards that relate to pasture and grazing. Taken together, they leave little doubt as to what is expected of organic livestock producers,” said Jim Riddle of the University of Minnesota and former chair of the National Organic Standards Board. “It’s no coincidence that except for the handful of mega-farms, all of the nation’s organic dairy farmers, and most of the certifiers that inspect them, understand that grazing is required and operate their farms in accordance with the law. It appears that the USDA is looking the other way by allowing these confinement dairies to not provide pasture for their lactating cows.”