Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What sets Organic Valley above the rest

You're at the supermarket. You're looking at the dairy case. You see Horizon Organic, Organic Valley, and maybe five other organic brands. Is there a difference? And if so, how do you choose?
I have long said that Organic Valley is by far the best option, but I have never fully explained why, or more importantly, compared them to their top competitor: Horizon Organic.

I first learned about their practices right around when I started HumaneFoodFinder. It was a little over a year ago when
Mercy For Animals exposed the abuse at Conklin Dairy Farms. They asked their members to contact the mayor of Plain City, where the farm is located.

I -- like so many other animal advocates -- emailed the mayor. Whether Mayor Sandy Adkins meant to or not, she emailed everyone who had contacted her regarding the Conklin Dairy case in the "To" address line, instead of the "BCC" line, and just like that, a humane listserv was formed!

So we started emailing each other what we were finding out. Someone from Florida, after watching the undercover video from Conklin Farm, emailed Organic Valley to ask them about their treatment of animals. Organic Valley sent the following reply, which the Floridian forwarded to the group:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your concerns. I came across this video/newsbreak yesterday and alerted my team of the issue. Humane treatment is something we take very seriously within our cooperative. The mistreatment of animals is just not tolerated for any reason.

Respectful treatment of animals is a central tenet of Organic Valley's philosophy. One of the mission statement's 7 goals is to "promote a respect for the diversity, dignity, and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil, and global life." In furtherance of this goal, Organic Valley has developed and mandated humane treatment standards that exceed those of the USDA's organic

Our mission statement defines organic as a "philosophy and system of production that mirrors the natural laws of living organisms with an emphasis on the interdependence of all life." In practice, this means that we follow the precautionary principle: we oppose both cloning and injecting bovine growth hormone, which harm animals; the foundation of all our livestock production is to minimize illness by providing low-stress environments, promoting robust immune systems, practicing preventive medicine, and using natural remedies as needed. Our farmer members can rely on some of the nation's foremost holistic animal husbandry experts who are affiliated with the cooperative.

Our farmers provide living conditions that permit their livestock to carry out their natural behaviors as much as possible. This includes providing a healthy environment, fresh air, access to the outdoors, clean water, 100% organic feed, and clean, dry, roomful bedding. Organic Valley animals are raised on small to mid-size family farms. As part of maintaining animal health, Organic Valley and Organic Prairie farmers do not "push" their animals. For example, a dairy farmer may be satisfied with 50 pounds of milk per day from a cow, rather than the 70 pounds per day expected by a conventional farmer, because this
reduces the stress on the animals and increases longevity.

Our pasturing requirements are more stringent then the USDA's. We require farmers to pasture their cattle for as much of the year as a region's seasonal climate permits, providing organic grain as a supplement, when needed, to grass or dry forages. The amount of time depends on location, season, weather, and farmers' individual feeding programs. Most of our farmers are in the northern USA, where pasture is available for approximately half of the year.

Confinement operations are prohibited in our cooperative. Animals cannot be forced to live on concrete. Living quarters must allow enough space for animals to get up, lay down, groom, and interact with other animals. Inhumane practices like tail docking, white veal production, and debeaking are prohibited.

Organically raised hogs must have access to the outdoors, and, for sows, farrowing crates and housing with wire or slatted floors are prohibited throughout the animals' lifetime.

Female calves are very valuable and are raised as herd replacements or sold to other dairies. Our farmers can raise male calves as steers for the organic meat market or they can sell them to other farmers that specialize in beef. Organic farmers pay a higher price for organically raised calves, since they will receive a higher price for the meat at the end of the process. We encourage our farmers to go through the Organic Prairie meat program to raise their cattle for organic meat production.

Organic hens are never caged, with natural sunlight in the hen house, no forced molting, and free access to the outdoors, weather permitting. Shelter must allow 1.75 square feet of floor space per hen, and pasture must allow 5 square feet of space per hen.

Organic Prairie works exclusively with processing (slaughter) plant partners that are certified for organic processing and federally inspected.
Most importantly, all our slaughter plants undergo an annual rigorous third party Animal Welfare audit, which audits to measurable standards
that are over and above USDA-FSIS requirements. This third party animal welfare audit ensures that the animals are handled humanely, and that their last day is as painless and stress-free as possible.

To learn more about animal care, please view:
Emphasis Mine.

And thus I started my love affair with Organic Valley.

But it goes further than that. Look at the two websites -- the comparisons are striking:

Organic Valley states that they have 1643 farmers in their co-op. And every farmer is listed under
Who's Your Farmer.

When you click on a region in the U.S., each state drops down, and you can find farmers in your state. Each farm has a profile on the website (the owner(s), and their City or County/State). You can of course do more research and Google the farm, and many of them have their own independent sites.

Now look at Horizon Organic. Under "Why Organic" you can click on
Our Farms. It states that they work with "600 organic family farms," and they list two farms as examples and then list two farms they manage in Idaho and Maryland. They also display their Standards of Care, which is a 26-page document that covers animal welfare, organic feed, environmental impacts and other issues.

While it explains in detail how Horizon Organic believes animals should be treated, it does not say that this is audited. However, at the end of the Animal Welfare section of the document, it does state that treatment activity "...records are audited annually by our farms’ designated USDA certifying agent and are periodically reviewed by internal quality assurance teams."

To be fair, I do applaud Horizon Organic for taking these steps; however, this is far from transparent. Organic Valley lists all of their farms. Organic Valley conducts annual inspections on the farms, and it does not rely on the USDA, which is very often lax, to audit animal treatment.

I would love to see Horizon Organic be more transparent, and it is great that there's a market that buys Organic Valley because it has such high standards and is so transparent. Onward.


  1. Thanks for your great post highlighting why Organic Valley stands above the rest. My husband and I are OV farmers.The care for our animals and land is our number one priority. YI'm glad you like the transparency of our coop. Those farmers pictured on our milk cartons are real too. My sons and I are the 1% carton in the Midwest region. Like you mentioned, many OV farmers have websites so you can "meet" the farmers. You can visit ours and read our blog which chronicles they happens on our farm and in our family.
    Thank you again for your support!

  2. Thanks Emily! Your website looks great! I am actually hoping to visit an OV farm this weekend! Super excited!

  3. Thank you do much. I had stopped drinking milk in protest but now need something for my son who can't have soy. I have been dissatisfied with the organic but inhumane alternatives. Thank you for this choice and for being so available. I am spreading the word!

  4. you do know that horizon organic sold out to dean corp who is also a know animal as well as not using true organic [practices

  5. Yes, I do. But Horizon Organic is not the same as Organic Valley. They are different companies.

  6. These animals are still held in rape stands and are penetrated by foriegn objects to become pregnant against their will,they are then pregnant for 9 months just like us only to have their babies ripped away from them,sold into the meat trade as babies or into slavery, forced pregnancy like their mother. This will happen about 5-6 more times until the mother doesn't "take" a pregnancy, then, at anout a quarter of her natural life span, she is shipped to a slaughterhouse, where she is terrified, and killed by humans who are some of the worst treated workers on the planet, whose own humanity is diminished. There are untold abuses andd pervisions at slaighterhouses,places of pain,filth, excrement, and sorrow. We are the only species of animal that extract excretions from other animals to consume. If you care, of you cannot bear tje thought of this happening to your dog or yourself, please stop participating in this very unnecessary evil.

    1. "Rape stands", good grief. When a cow is in heat and ready to be bred, either by live bull or artificial insemination, she will happily seek out pregnancy. In fact, she will even allow other female cows to mount her, in the hopes that she'll be bred. There is no "rape" involved in this process, nor is it stressful for the cow. As far as being bred "5 or 6 times until she doesn't take", you can actually expect a good dairy cow to carry 10 or more pregnancies in her lifetime, which is a normal reproductive lifespan for an herbivore. And not all dairy cows are shipped to slaughter at retirement, especially with companies like Organic Valley. Many older milk cows are sold to small family homesteads for folks who want to keep one or two cows for family milk consumption, and who don't mind the lower production rates of a cow past her prime.

      And no, sorry. We are not the "only species of animal that extract excretions from other animals to consume". Barn cats line up during the milking time to get their squirts from cow and goat udders. Baby horses will nurse on dairy goats, which is cross-species "extraction of excretions" (Actually, I think you're looking for SECRETIONS, not "excretions"). I've even seen cows and goats nurse on themselves because they like the milk! You must live under a rock in Los Angeles.

  7. Thanks Clare for opening my eyes. I'm a vegetarian and Organic Valley was the only cheese that I consumed. I stop consuming dairy at restaurants and in public areas. I guess I been looking for the farm that doesn't exist. One where cows are 1000% free, get pregnant naturally, are allowed to raise and feed their calf, and whatever milk is left is for human consumption. Their babies are send to the slaughter and them too after they can't produce milk. Today is my first day as a vegan

  8. So am I to understand that farmers part of Organic Valley are not to have the male calves raised in crates for veal? I just drove to and from Bodega Bay and passed an organic Valley dairy farm where rows of what looked like little plastic huts were with calves in them. Granted they each had a tiny outside pen but still not what I would consider access to pasture or would even let a calf stretch and be able to do more then let them freely turn around.

    1. You bring up relevant points. I grew up on mill and milk products, love my cheese, but I cannot anymore buy into inhumane treatment of cows. I am heartbroken to learn and see the cruelty they are subjected to. I gave up on dairy yesterday. When will we learn to be humane!? When will profit learn that a big percentage of customers do not want to support inhumane practices of farming. At least the voice of our wallet will suggest new ways of farming. I've been cuckolded so far into supporting this horror. No more.

  9. I'm learning about the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle and stumbled across this post. Could someone explain what happens to the calves? There are some inconsistencies in the comments. Are they allowed to grow up with their mothers?

    1. No they are taken, after a day, and sent to become veal, if boys, and sent to become dairy cows, or meat if they are a girl. Nothing good happens at either place.

  10. Hi! As you can see, I haven't blogged in a long time! I have actually become a vegan, and got too busy with life to continue to blog. However, it really depends on the farmer. Most calves do not grow up with their mothers, as the milk that is produced is used for human consumption and not calves. If calves were allowed to drink the milk, the farmer would not make any money. That, and the fact that most calves are used for veal, is one of the main reasons I became vegan. Even the best farmers who allow their calves to be raised for future dairy production or meat are still prevented from bonding with their mothers, and the process of taking a calf away from their mothers are traumatic for both the mother and baby.