Tilting at cows: Horizon Organic sidesteps the issues

cows.jpg Horizon Organic has sidestepped the question of whether they pasture their cows or keep them in feedlot conditions, taking out a full page print ad in Wednesday’s edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Horizon is facing criticism and complaints to the USDA from two consumer advocacy groups, has had their pasturing practices, and has had their products pulled from the shelves by one the largest consumer-owned retailer in the United States.

The print ad minimizes the pasturing question while emphasizing Horizon’s organic record with the tag “Pure. Simple. Organic.” Their organic record is impressive, but they devote just one sentence on the topic of grazing. Their claim that “our cows are never confined and are free to roam” has been challenged by two former employees, a veterinarian and a grazing manager.

Unlike Whole Foods, which engaged in a dialogue with its most visible critic and implemented changes, Horizon and the second-largest organic dairy, Aurora, have put their hooves firmly in the ground with little sign that they have ruminated on this issue. Unlike Whole Foods, which has to contend with local organic retailers and the entry of mega-retailer Wal-Mart into the organic arena, Horizon Organic and Aurora are the largest games in town. There is little competitive pressure on them to eliminate feedlots and considerable market pressure on them to produce more milk, even if that means keeping cows in confinement. Your happy cow may not be so happy.

Interactions between Horizon and Aurora and consumer advocacy groups have been rancorous at times. Quoted in the Chicago Tribune, Horizon’s vice president for environmental stewardship accused the Cornucopia Institute of having a “pathological obsession” toward Horizon, of “killing this industry” andcow-rear.jpg “hurting farmers.” Cornucopia’s co-founder retorts that they are opposed to factory farms and are trying to protect family farms using the letter of the law. The Organic Consumers Association and Aurora have criticized and insulted each other on their web sites.

Don’t expect Horizon Organic or this controversy to go “udders up” any time soon.

6 Responsesto “Tilting at cows: Horizon Organic sidesteps the issues”

  1. Corn Maven says:

    I say, keep the pressure on Horizon and Aurora. Unfortunately, being a local “David” to a multinational “Goliath” is a tough road. A way toward long-term change, imo, is from the ground up. That’s you and me, and you over there, taking the time to vote, to voice our opinion where it counts… at the check-out counter.

    See my earlier post. Add your voice to the boycott. Tell your neighbors. And your friends.

    Horizon and Aurora CAN change, if they want to… if they are willing to put the cows welfare ahead of more and more profits.

    BTW I prefer Horizon’s sour cream over any other organic one I’ve tried. I’m now buying Organic Valley’s, because my tastebuds prefer theirs to Nancy’s .

    And I wrote Joe and Diana at Farmer Joe’s this week asking them to consider joining the boycott.

  2. What I’d like to see is Whole Foods putting pressure on Horizon. I commented on Mackey’s “we’re committed to humane treatment” post by asking about Horizon (and accusing them of hypocrisy), and they pushed back with “we think Horizon’s just fine.” Despite the many subsequent protests that have come up.

    So one of their biggest customers isn’t forcing them to change their practices (something they did with, say, Grimaud Farms). If Whole Foods said, “You know what? You need to do something different,” Horizon would change quickly.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    Does anyone else find this a little inconsistent with their lobster stance?

    Also, anyone have the scoop on the Ben & Jerry’s story that ran in yesterday’s USA today? Couldn’t find follow up or confirmation as of late last night/early this AM about them dropping their egg suppliers.

    Jacqueline Church

  4. Corn Maven says:

    hi jacqueline,

    i couldn’t locate the usa today article but found this confirmation here.

    also see this article for background on the outrage toward b&j.

    maybe i’m not crazy after all to think that public pressure works.

    and i agree with you, derrick. going after whole foods is a brilliant idea, especially now that they’re trying to shine the tarnish on their image.

  5. Man of La Muncha says:

    I didn’t see any Horizon milk at Whole Foods when I stopped by to get raw milk (PCC has been out for the past week). Whole Foods had Organic Valley, Strauss Creamery, two raw milk brands (including one I hadn’t seen), and their own 365 brand. I would be interested to know who supplies the milk for their 365 brand (the label didn’t say).

    According to the Cornucopia Institute, Whole Foods is scaling back Horizon. Looks like the Seattle store has eliminated them. I wish I’d checked the Bellevue store when I was on that side of the lake.

  6. Hal Landvoigt says:

    I’m interested in the Montlake meat share and am wondering if there are any slots still available. I didn’t see a private email listed anywhere, so I’ll post my interest here. Please, LaMuncha or Butter, let me know if there is still an open slot.