The organic label implies something less industrial than the brands we associate with multinational companies like General Mills or Kraft — even with organic products stacked on the shelves of superstore giants like Wal-Mart and Target.
Not so. These days major industrial players dominate organic food production. How else could the superstore demands be satisfied? Behind most familiar organic brands is much more familiar multinational food processor. Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen are owned by General Mills. Odwalla is a Coca-Cola brand. Back to Nature is a Kraft brand.
Michigan State professor Phil Howard maintains a “Who owns organic?” chart. Here it is, using data from June 2009:
Click to enlarge the Organic Industry Structure
Taking a close look at organic dairy
Researchers at The Cornucopia institute in Cornucopia, Wis., have been diligently tracking the industrialization of organics for years. One major project is their Organic Dairy Scorecard. Continually updated, the scorecard shows “which brands and dairy products found in your region are produced using the best organic farming practices and ethics.”
Those best practices, according to the Cornucopia Institute, include:
Ownership structure: Categories range from “farms owned and operated by a resident farm family” to “investor owned corporation with a questionable track record.”
Milk supply: Cornucopia’s ideal is the farmstead dairy that maybe buys additional milk from neighbors. At the bottom of the list are the dairies that have no direct control over suppliers and purchase from “confinement dairies” where cows are squeezed together by the thousands.
Antibiotic use on young cattle: Top scores go to farms where all antibiotic use is prohibited. They also rank based on hormone usage.
Which Minnesota dairies make on the list and how did they score?
Here are the top scoring dairies in Minnesota:
Five Cow Rating
Cedar Summit Dairy, New Prague (milk, yogurt, ice cream)
PastureLand, Dodge Center (seasonal production of cheese and butter)
Four Cow Rating
Old Home, St. Paul (milk)
Hope Creamery, Hope (butter)
Helios, Sauk Centre (kefir)
Want to dig deeper? Have a look at Cornucopia’s Organic Dairy Scorecard and let me know what jumps out at you. Do you agree with Cornucopia’s standards? What lengths did you go to for an organic Thanksgiving?