Monday, April 13, 2009
Big Organics is Lying to You
I read a particularly shocking piece of information the other day in my copy of Newsweek. The article was about the shameful practices of 'puppy farms'. I use quotes because the outrageous practices on these so-called farms are more akin to the atrocities of factory-farmed meat than what we would imagine by the bucolic word 'farm'. While I was appalled at the treatment of our canine companions it was not their abuse that caused me to throw down the magazine and come to my computer, open up Word, and commence to rant again. It was the fact that many abusive puppy farms are run by the very same farmers that supply Horizon with 'organic' milk.
It is the whole Horizon saga that burns my britches. The story is not only shameful in the way that this company cynically abuses the organic label but in how the public, including respected natural food stores everywhere, allow them to get away with this travesty. The sad fact is that it's just the visible cold sore on the face of corporate organics. The whole body is riddled with disease, and we turn a blind eye to it so that we can believe we are doing right, helping the environment, helping out the poor animals, by buying brands like Horizon. Here is a link to an article about the complaints The Cornucopia Institute, an organic watch dog group, brought against Horizon, owned by Dean Foods (a huge corporate giant).
Part of the problem is perception. While there are large numbers of people who can neither afford organic foods nor understand the need for organic agriculture, there are large numbers of people forking out lots of extra cash to do what they think is the right thing. Their perception of organic is actually probably decades old. They imagine a real farm with committed, idealistic people, happy cows, and green grass.
Indeed when the organic movement started it was just such idealistic people that headed to the country and started small farms to do something radically different. Agriculture and traditional farms had been swayed by the claims of chemical giants long before and America's farmlands were toxic leach fields with the cocktail of pesticides and herbicides poured out upon them. The hippy farmer in the seventies, driving his VW bus, was bucking the concept that better living came from better science. Early attempts at organic growing yielded small malformed vegetables with bug bites and high price tags due to the small scale and the high level of labor needed (ever tried hand picking Colorado potato beetles from an acre of potato plants? I have).
But that new-age peace and love granola eating hippy persevered until he or she became a good and innovative farmer offering vegetables and then meat that was every bit as beautiful as the conventionally grown offerings but was often more nutritious, better tasting, and wasn't destroying habitat for wild animals, or stripping soil of its valuable nutrients. Sure it cost a little more at the checkout but it was worth it.
Of course for organics to truly make a difference in the world they needed to be more than a niche market and therein lies the rub. Today the business of putting organic food on your table is more and more just that: business. Big business like Dean Foods, Unilever, General Mills, etc is in the business of organic and they have rapidly changed the face of organics, diluting standards so that they can make bigger profits. It would be naïve to think that Dean Foods got into the business of organic milk so that your children could drink healthier milk from happy cows. They got into it because the profits are larger. What does that mean? That means that organic doesn't cost that much more to produce anymore, but they can jack the price up because of that organic seal on the label. You're not paying some small family farms with enlightened farmers and a back to the land ideal when you grab that cartoon with the cute black and white cow on it. You're buying agribusiness for twice or three times the price of the same product next to it.
Oh sure, it has some organic standards in place. But most of the ideals and benefits of organic are lost when you have a huge mono-culture conventionally grown, just without the harshest pesticides. Many Horizon farms, like Aurora, are huge feedlots. Cows have 'access' to green pasture, on other words some times some of their sisters get to graze outside but most of the time they are in huge sheds, up to their knees in shit. And to just prove how cynical these 'farmers' are now they're raising puppies in cages of their own shit to sell to you for hundreds of dollars a pop.
If you still want to buy organic milk I suggest Organic Valley as they are an organic Farmer's Cooperative, or better yet, find a farmer. Visit the farm. See the cows in the pastures, because labels lie. Big business Organics is all smoke and mirrors.