|Is organic dairy a choice? Or do some
people want it forced on us?
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been living your life blissfully unaware that there is such a thing called the United States National Organic Action Plan. Unfortunately, prepare to awake from your slumber, because this is going to hurt.
In other words: goodbye conventional farming.
The people involved with the Plan, conveniently named in the Plan, include the likes of Mike Adams, founder of Natural News; Dag Falck of Nature’s Path and the Non-GMO Project; and John Roulac, CEO of the organic company Nutiva and co-founder of GMOInside (a terrible anti-GMO junk website). According to Mr. Roulac’s LinkedIn profile, he credits himself with getting General Mills to remove GMOs from their original cheerios. There are also several organizations that are on the list, including the National Organic Coalition, the Center for Food Safety, and Beyond Pesticides. You can see a full list of the people and entities supporting the Plan on pages 59 and 60.
Fun activity: the next time someone tells you that organic agriculture is on the same side as conventional agriculture, check to see whether they’re connected to the Plan.
The Plan comes with four distinct “action” goals that it hopes to achieve by 2020. They are:
- Double the amount of organic products and the number of farms, acreage, public lands, and animals under organic management every 5 years through 2020.
- Expanding local organic seed production capacities, with a benchmark of meeting 50% of all local organic seed needs by 2020.
- Increasing local organic production and processing by 50% by 2020, by increasing the infrastructure of organic regional food systems with government financial assistance.
- Increase organic supplies to ensure the commercial availability of all agriculture based organic ingredients contained in process cities, with a benchmark of meeting 50% of all organic seed needs by 2020.
(NOAP, page 6-7.)
Supporters of the Plan also have a big problem with the U.S. government, which they believe has been lackluster in its support of the organic industry. The Plan heavily relies on convincing the government that it needs to become a champion for the organic industry, not just a modest supporter. Jealous of the European Union’s warm embrace for organic production, the Plan states:
The U.S. government lags well behind many other governments in terms of its commitment to enhancing and promoting organic food and agriculture and it remains one of the last industrialized countries to develop a national organic action plan. It has yet to acknowledge the multitude of health and environmental benefits associated with moves away from chemical-intensive agriculture and towards more environmentally and socially responsible methods of food production.
(NOAP, page 5.)
What remains incredibly clear – and scary – is that this group of individuals and entities wants to create an entirely organic agricultural production system in the United States. Now, I’ve published and shared lots of studies and articles showing that organic production is not more efficient, is not as environmentally-friendly, and certainly isn’t healthier than conventional farming. And let’s not forget that organic production also uses pesticides. Not surprisingly, this group didn’t seem to care about that kind of stuff (they usually don’t).
But here’s the worst part – they are succeeding.
The organic industry is currently the fastest growing sector in US agriculture. In 2009, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promoted the National Organic Program to its own stand alone program within the USDA. In 2007, there were over 20,000 farms transitioning to organic certification (it takes 3 years). Go into any grocery stores these days and you’ll see the aisles are full of these products.
But come on, they can’t possibly switch our entire production system to organic; can they?
Problems with Organic Milk Production
Beyond a basic introduction to the NOAP, there are obviously a lot of issues and problems that can and should be discussed, especially in light of the continued growth of the organic sector. But for now, I want to tackle one area of organic production that seems to get special recognition in the Plan, and also provides at least an illustration of how the Plan may reach its goal. With some research and discussion with Stephan Neidenbach at We Love GMOs & Vaccines, we’ve recognized a link between organic milk production and the Plan.
As with any type of organic production, organic dairies must meet various requirements to officially become organically certified. Of course, livestock considered to be organic must be fed 100% organic feed. In addition, they must be allowed to graze on the pasture for at least 120 days, and 30% of their dry feed intake must come from pastures. Organic livestock, including those used for dairy, must be allowed access to the outside all year. (Source: USDA)
If you’re a dairy farmer, are you really going to go through the expensive process of becoming organically certified and carry the higher organic feed costs, just to lose certification (and that premium price!) because there isn’t enough organic feed available? Probably not. Or risk that your expensive milk doesn’t sell? Not a chance.
By the way, while researching this topic, there was some conflicting research and discussions with those more heavily immersed in organic dairy. We know that there certainly isn’t enough organic feed to meet demand, but many farms (even conventional ones) in the Midwest are able to graze their animals more often than required. The price and supply of organic milk has also fluctuated. Nonetheless, the point still stands that those involved in creating the Plan believe the organic dairy situation is as described above.
The Assault on “Monsanto Milk”
Which leads us to the Plan’s last action goal – increasing organic supplies so that there is plenty of commercial availability of organic ingredients, including livestock feed. How can the Plan possibly ensure there is enough organic feed available for organic farmers, when grain farmers have little to no incentive to switch their production?
They create the demand.
Ah, grab yourself a tall refreshing glass of the so-called “Monsanto Milk.” At least, that’s what groups like GMO Inside want to call it. Suspending even more scientific logic than usual, the anti-GMO groups have pushed the theory that animals consuming feed with genetically modified crops are now considered GMO. The question as to whether these animal products need to be labeled as GMOs has come up in debates surrounding the various state ballot measures. But the idea is absurd. We all realize, either intuitively or with common sense, that our DNA does not somehow absorb and change into the DNA of the foods we’re eating.
I am no more a cherry pie today than I was yesterday, because I had a slice after lunch.
Consider the campaign that tried to bully Starbucks into selling only organic milk. The campaign was started by the group GMOInside, but quickly spread to other blogs. Of course, the goal was to stop the sale of “Monsanto Milk” at the chain store. Starbucks is a huge purchaser of milk products, with 20,000 retails stores in 60 different countries. In 2008, the company stopped offering organic milk after switching to conventional milk produced without the use of growth hormones, admitting the requests for organic milk were extremely low.
Starbucks isn’t the only company in the path of the movement – Land O’ Lakes (“Monsanto Butter”) and Chobani have also come under fire for not using organic dairy products. If you remember, Whole Foods dropped Chobani because the company refused to source products from only organic or non-GMO sources.
In 2010, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) sued Monsanto attempting to make the company liable for any cross-contamination of organic produce with the DNA from GMO. The case was dismissed, in part, because Monsanto had not taken action against organic growers for inadvertent cross-pollination. No surprise, members of OSGATA also contributed to the NOAP.
As Stephan pointed out in his complimentary article, there’s more examples of targeting dairies. Do we honestly think a bunch of random anti-GMO, pro-organic campaigns run by people involved with the NOAP just happened to target conventional dairies in favor of organic dairies? Hardly.
Piecing It Together
It makes sense when you consider some basic supply and demand principles and consider them in light of how the Plan depicts the current state of organic dairy.
First, consider the realities of our agricultural commodities. Aside from maybe sugar beets, corn and soybeans are the most prevalent genetically modified crops in the marketplace today. In 2014, 93% of field corn produced in the United States contained a genetically modified trait, while 94% of all soybeans are genetically modified. Obviously, it’s fair to say that GMO corn and soybeans dominate the market place.
So, how are we using all of those genetically modified crops? To feed our livestock, including dairy cows. In 2012, 38% of that year’s field corn crop was used for animal feed — the largest use of GMO corn in the world. The next biggest use is ethanol, which also produces a by-product used in animal feed.
Todd Larson from Green America, which was involved in the campaign against Starbucks and also hates GMOs, was asked about the economic impact of the company switching to all organic milk. He was quoted as saying:
If Starbucks phases in organic milk over time, and creates a market for it over time, it can move to organic milk without creating price increases for consumers or creating shortages in the organic milk market. In fact, Starbucks’ growing demand would make it easier for more farmers to go organic and lower prices overall over the next few years.
(Source: Wall Street Journal) Because that’s the plan, forcing the hand of dairies and farmers across the country into making the transition to organic production.
Now, I certainly don’t believe that all organic farmers are behind such a Plan and are attempting to create additional demand for organic milk through these targeted campaigns. Quite frankly, I’m not even sure there are any actual farmers named as contributors to this list. I do, however, believe that’s exactly what the Plan’s supporters and members are attempting to accomplish. While we can debate the current state of the organic milk market or the availability of non-imported organic feed, the members of the Plan certainly see it this way.
The larger picture seems equally clear – the Plan has little to do with promoting the best agricultural system designed to meet the growing needs of our population now and in the future. Rather, the Plan and its supporters bought into an ideology and campaign to radically change our production system to something that is not the best bet for the future of agriculture.