Where Does Your Milk Come From?

As best I can, I try to eat things that come from within a radius that includes the states contiguous to Georgia. Honestly, it’s a pretty low bar of achievement and not that difficult. Never any produce from California. No kiwis. Sometimes I cheat with mangoes. Coffee and wine are obvious exceptions (thank you, Jack Daniel’s, for making whiskey drinking guilt-free!), but all in all, I grow or obtain locally the vast majority of what I consume.

Milk, on the other hand, is a different matter. With no good alternative sources north of Atlanta, my organic choices are limited to Horizon and Kroger’s brand. Of course, I know that the chances of either being produced in the Southeast are slim and none. But without better options, I suppose I take a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil approach (which I admit is patently ridiculous since I rarely drink milk, usually only in my morning coffee).

Now, however, I’ve been pointed to a great online milk tracker tool, which–I hate to say–is no longer going to permit me to make excuses about my buying habits  (HT: Ashley). So, I’ve opened the fridge, and before me now sit my two gallons of Horizon whole milk. And where did they originate?……….Ugh……..

Denver, Colorado. From Robinson Dairy.

According to its Web site, Robinson began co-packing Horizon Organic of Boulder, CO in 1996. Suiza Foods of Dallas bought the dairy in 1999. In 2001, Suiza merged with Dean Foods, the current parent company.

And since we’re on the topic of bad news, how does Horizon Organic currently rate in the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Dairy Report? Um, not so good. No score, no cute cow figures, meaning “ethically deficient”:  factory farm milk and an unwillingness to participate in the study. More fully:

Horizon (Dean Foods)

Started by a syndicate of millionaires whose experience included organic groceries and conventional factory dairy farming, they quickly grew the enterprise, accessing venture capital and eventually selling stock in the company on Wall Street. Horizon, which is now the largest selling organic milk brand, was purchased by Dean Foods, a giant agribusiness, with almost $11 billion in sales, specializing in dairy products. Dean is also the largest conventional dairy marketer in the country.

They operate two corporate-owned farms, in Maryland and Idaho. Their Idaho facility, milking 4000–5000 cows, was originally a conventional factory-dairy that they converted to organic production. It has, according to widespread industry reports, very little access to pasture. Unlike the majority of all organic dairy farmers in the United States, who concentrate on the health and longevity of their cows, caring for them from birth, the Dean/Horizon Idaho farm sells off all their calves. Later, presumably to save money on organic feed and management, they buy one-year-old conventional animals on the open market. These replacements likely have received conventional milk replacer (made with blood—considered to be a “mad cow” risk), antibiotics, other prohibited pharmaceuticals, and genetically engineered feed. Many practices on a farm of this nature put ethical family-scale organic farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

In addition, Dean/Horizon purchases milk from other industrial-scale farms, some of which have a history of alleged labor abuses, and has reportedly been actively recruiting additional large farms. The company has announced plans to invest $10 million in additional farms in Idaho that will milk thousands of cows.

Although the corporation purchases at least half its milk from hundreds of family-scale farmers (they lump together the large factory farms with these traditional family farms, there is no clear-cut way for us to determine the percentage). There is no reason to believe these smaller organic dairy farms are not conducting their business just as ethically as farmers shipping to other labels. In a series of meetings with Dean officers and staff, we presented an option for disinvestment in their factory farms and an ambitious alternative proposal to fund transition and start-up of more organic family farms to fill their needs. Thus far, they have rejected this alternative. The corporation did not respond to either of two letters requesting their participation in the study and Horizon’s corporate vice-president also declined another invitation to participate in the survey during a private meeting with Cornucopia staff.

Horizon has created an organic facts site as part of its PR campaign. Regardless, it looks as though I’ve got some decisions to make. The first is to make inquiries into the possibility of buying from a farmer I can meet firsthand, with a farm I can see myself.

You might be a little out of the way, but–Johnston Family Farm in Newborn, GA–here I come.

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3 thoughts on “Where Does Your Milk Come From?

  1. Ah, the milk drinker’s dilemma. We get Johnston’s milk from the Daily Co-op, it’s kinda pricey, but as far as I know, at least it isn’t completely corrupt.

    • Annie, I’m starting to rethink milk as a luxury item, which is odd since I have always lived with it as a staple of the refrigerator. We used to make milk runs to the Golden Pantry at 9:30 p.m. to insure there would be plenty for breakfast. If there wasn’t…well, hell hath no fury like a father who can’t eat his Raisin Bran.

      Now two gallons sit in the fridge for a month. I think it works for my budget to spend a little more for Johnston’s, if I don’t have to try a couple hours to get it. Bulk purchases at Locally Grown might be the answer. Or, maybe I can find a closer dairy.

      Whatever the case, I propose a group field trip to Johnston’s farm, which could be a great way to spend a Spring afternoon.

  2. Does anyone know where the California Target Stores “Market Pantry” milk comes from? i.e: California or Minnesota?

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