Organic Dairy Breaks USDA Rules
A supplier to Dean Foods Co., the nation's largest dairy processor, has been accused of confining its cows on a feedlot instead of letting them roam on pasture—in defiance of federal rules on organic production.
Cornucopia Institute asked the US Department of Agriculture to investigate the Fagundes Brothers Dairy after officials from the Institute and other neighboring organic dairy farmers reported seeing cows being confined, even in good weather. According to federal law, dairy marketed as organic must come from cows who have access to pasture.
Certified organic six years ago after transitioning from a conventional operation, the Fagundes facility milks about 3,000 cows on three sites. The owner says he pastures his cows on about 700 acres roughly from May through September, depending on weather, though Cornucopia Institute reports there is evidence against this claim.
Eight years ago, 3-year-old Brianna Kriefall and 140 other people became ill after eating at a Sizzler in South Milwaukee. E. coli-contaminated meat that had come from Excel Corp., a subsidiary of Cargill, had been served at the restaurant. Though Brianna did not eat the meat, she did eat watermelon that had been contaminated by it, and she died as a result. Initially, Excel denied that its product caused the outbreak, but genetic testing proved otherwise. In June, the company agreed to pay Brianna's family $13.5 million, the second-largest settlement in the nation involving a food-borne illness, and perhaps the largest award for a single victim.
However, Tyson's efforts to dupe the public were soon uncovered by the company's competitors. Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms sought an injunction against the firm, arguing that Tyson's "raised without antibiotics" claim misleads consumers and has caused irreparable harm by implying products from competitors contain antibiotics or dangerous additives. While the deceptive new campaign was a major success for Tyson last year, Sanderson and Perdue reported respective losses of a $4 million account and $10 million in revenue.
Meanwhile, Tyson officials have admitted to engaging in the "common industry practice" of injecting eggs with antibiotics a few days before they hatch. A representative of the company said injecting eggs with antibiotics does not go against the label because the term "raised" only covers the period that begins with hatching. In addition, Tyson puts another type of antibiotic known as an ionophore in the feed given its chickens. Ionophores, which are not used to treat human diseases, are commonly given to industrially raised farm animals. Ionophores are also used by Sanderson and Perdue.
Finally, Tyson was ordered by a US District Court in April to remove all of its advertisements that claim that its chickens are raised without antibiotics. However, since May, consumers in several states have also been filing suit to challenge the marketing claim, alleging false advertising throughout the entire campaign and seeking compensation.
In addition to the legal actions against Tyson by its competitors and consumers, the US Department of Agriculture's Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), which had originally supported the company's request to label its products as antibiotic free, has changed its position. Now that it has all the data available, including the ruling from US District Court, the FSIS has rejected both the original label claim and a revised version proposed by Tyson, which stated "raised without antibiotics that impact human antibiotic resistance."