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" and "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.