Factory farms in the United States have been selling meat and dairy products as organic when they’re not and big strawberry growers have found a way to skirt rules about when fruit may be called organic.
The Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin says it has uncovered “one of the largest fraud investigations in the history of the organic industry.”
Using aerial photography, the institute found 14 factory farms in Texas, New York, Maryland and six other states that have produced milk, meat and eggs under the organic label. The photographs obtained by Cornucopia showed the cattle and chickens on these farms were confined to “industrial-scale confinement livestock facilities” and cows were not given access to fields for grazing, which is required under federal rules for organic farming.
“The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture,” Mark A. Kastel, the Cornucopia Institute’s senior farm policy analyst, said. “The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100% of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots.”
The organization also says that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has dragged its feet in investigating those who commit organic fraud.
Shamrock Farms in Arizona, for example, has been factory farming about 16,000 cows while claiming to produce organic products. It took the USDA three years to investigate the operation after the Cornucopia Institute first blew the whistle on Shamrock. But Shamrock is appealing the ruling and is doing business as usual.
Some fruit is also being labeled organic when it shouldn’t be. Big strawberry producers have also found ways to label their products as organic even though they’re grown in fumigated soil.
Federal law says organic farmers may use seedlings grown in fumigated soil if those are the only ones available. Big producers use proprietary varieties, which are grown in fumigated soil, that small farmers can’t produce, so they’re able to skirt the law.
The result is that small truly organic growers have been pushed out of the business. “Until [the government says], ‘We will not certify your strawberries unless you grow with organic plants,’ I really don’t think there’s a business opportunity there,” former grower James Rickert told The Center for Investigative Reporting.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley