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: http://www.organicvalley.coop/resources/videos/organic-animal-care/.
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.