We all hope that the USDA’s mission is to protect the quality and nutritiousness of our food supply while making sure that merchants are selling us what they promise. It is a basic equation: We pay taxes to hire them to protect us. If the protection is not there and the USDA is allowing vendors to deceive us, then we are being failed by our own government.
Here is a link to an article that appeared in the Washington Post in May of 2017.
It outlines, in rather detailed and scientific fashion, the USDA’s lack of vigilance with regard to organic dairies in general, and the Aurora Organic Dairy specifically. Aurora is a massive dairy based in Greeley, Colorado that is home to more than 15,000 cows. Aurora retails its “organic” milk through Walmart, Costco, and other major retailers.
I would encourage you all to read the complete article. It is troubling at best. The USDA requires that diaries labeling their milk “certified organic” are required to allow the cows to graze daily throughout the growing season (generally Spring through to the first frost) on grassy pastures. These cows are not supposed to be confined to barns or feedlots or fed corn. Here is what the Washington Post found out in their investigation:
- The grazing season typically runs from Spring until the first frost. To evaluate the Aurora operation, the Post visited the High Plains dairy complex eight days during that period-three in August, three in September, and two in October. Regular paved roads crisscrossed the farm, allowing a view of the fields. The Post’s visits ranged from about 45 minutes to as long as ten hours. On each of those ten days, only a very small portion of the 15,000-cow herd was seen on pasture. Many more were seen on the feedlots.
- In July, a satellite photo from DigitalGlobe snapped a high-resolution picture of the whole area. Once again, less than 10% of the herd was seen on grass.
- In order to be fair, the Post visited at different times of day, sometimes twice a day. Because the cows are milked in shifts, thousands of them should be out at any given time.
- And when did the government’s inspectors go to the Aurora dairy operation to see if the cows were out on pasture? They went in November when the cows are supposed to be in the barn.
- Grass-fed cows tend to produce milk with elevated levels of two types of fat: Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA which some regard as the clearest indicator of grass feeding and is an omega-3 fat known as alpha-Linolenic Acid. Both have been associated with health benefits to humans. Another type of fat, just plain Linolenic Acid, an omega 6-fat, tends to be sparser in milks that are pasture fed on grass. In order to be scientifically sound, the Post sent samples of the milk to Virginia Tech dairy science professor Benjamin Corl who analyzed eight different brands of milk, some organic and some not, and all bottled during the grazing season. He performed the tests without knowing the brand names of the samples. The results were disturbing. For the Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA, the Aurora Organic Dairy scored lower than the nonorganic milks and significantly below the organic pasture raised milks. For the alpha Linolenic Acid, the Aurora milk ranked lower than the other organic pasture raised milk but a little bit higher than the conventional milk. And for the Linolenic Acid (the ingredient that is diminished in organic and heightened in regular milk) the Aurora sample was greater than all the organics and all the conventionals.
In April of 2007, the USDA said it had identified “willful violations” of organic rules by the dairy. Aurora had, among other things, for three years “failed to provide a total feed ration that included pasture.” The USDA proposed evoking Aurora’s organic status. Four months later the case was resolved.
Retailers are able to sell USDA certified organic milk for about twice the amount that conventional milk sells for. This is based on the consumers’ faith in our government and faith that they are paying for a milk that has important healthy ingredients in it. If that reliance turns out to be specious, then the whole USDA certified organic equation becomes a nullity and we are back to the chaos of retailers calling whatever they want “all natural” and consumers having no idea where the truth lies.
This is a very troubling article for me to write. I would like to believe in our government and I would like to believe that it tries to protect us. Sadly, it sure does not seem that way from this investigation.
Paul V. Profeta co-founded Profeta Farms with his wife, certified Integrative Nutrition Coach, Joanne Malino and organic farmer John Place. After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Paul created a very successful real estate investment company. Concomitantly, he taught and published at Harvard Business School, created the Real Estate Investment Department at Columbia Business School, and most recently endowed the Chaired Professorship of Real Estate at Rutgers Business School resulting in the creation of the Rutgers Center for Real Estate. As a successful athlete in high school and college, Profeta was always interested in health, nutrition, and alternative medicine. Eventually, he decided that America has to change the way it feeds itself. Industrialized food processors shipping food across the country creating a large carbon footprint and offering “food products” with known contaminants and questionable ingredients was not the answer. He has created Profeta Farms, LLC as a template for the way America should feed itself… local, sustainable, certified organic farms featuring integrity and transparency, using the environment in a sustainable and responsible fashion while treating animals humanely so that local shoppers can “know their farmer” and personally check on the farmers methods and ingredients.