A disagreement over the importance of pasture access has led to a dispute about what constitutes organic milk, and the battlegrounds are being drawn in Colorado.
The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, a family-farm advocate, claims that Aurora Organic Dairy, one of the chief raw milk suppliers to Horizon Organic, violates federal standards that require access to pasture for organic dairy cows.
But officials of the 5,700-head farm say they disagree with Cornucopia's take on the regulations. The cows are treated humanely and produce high-quality milk, they say. And they have access to pasture at some stages in their production cycle. Cornucopia has filed a complaint with the National Organic Program, a regulatory unit of USDA.
Aurora is owned and operated by one of the pioneers of modern U.S. organic foods, Mark Retzloff. But some of his contemporaries, including George Siemon of Organic Valley Family of Farms, and Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, agree with Cornucopia that all requirements of the National Organic Standards must be enforced.
However, Steve Demos, who now operates Dean Foods' value-added division which includes Horizon Organic, supports Retzloff's contention that some concessions should be allowed in the interest of converting a greater amount of acreage to organic farming and making organic products more affordable for mainstream consumers.
Meanwhile, Organic Valley has introduced "Rocky Mountain Pastures," a line of milk made exclusively with milk from organic, pasture grazed Colorado cows and processed at a plant near Colorado Springs. An O.V. member farm is developing a herd of Brown Swiss and Tarentaise cows which they say adapt well to the Rocky Mountain climate and terrain.