Horizon Organic Milk: Is it All Just Lies?
Under the advice of several colleagues and readers, I decided to pick up a copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Fascinating read to say the least, and one thing that cropped up was the term 'organic' and how the word has become perverted and practically raped by the agricultural industry. Not surprising when you consider it's now a $15 billion a year business. That's a lot of money…which means power…which means corruption. (See also: Deciding Which Produce to Buy Organic - The Dirty Dozen)
So, I decided to do some digging around, putting a product in my own fridge under the microscope. Horizon Organic Milk. The packaging and verbiage promise a lot, a beautiful world of cows grazing in green pastures with big smiles, happily producing only he tastiest, unsullied milk. I reproduce it here word for word, you can judge for yourself if it's entirely truthful as we continue.
HORIZON ORGANIC — A Choice You Can Feel Good About
Horizon Organic products are as good for you as they are delicious because they are produced without the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones or dangerous pesticides.
That's why choosing Horizon Organic is a wholesome and nutritious way to help reduce your exposure to added chemical. And drinking our milk is also a great way to nourish your body. It provides an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D.
When you choose Horizon Organic you also contribute to the health and well being of the planet and animals. We allow our cows to make milk according to their natural cycle and keep them in good health by giving them certified organic feed, fresh air and access to pasture. In return, our cows give us great-tasting organic milk.
Best put, all of our products proudly carry the USDA Organic seal and that says it all. Thank you for choosing Horizon Organic. We hope it's a choice that leaves you feeling good inside and out.
Now, as far as I can see there are some misleading and downright deceptive statements in that copy. Let's deal with them one at a time.
"…they are produced without the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones or dangerous pesticides."
As it turns out, antibiotics were never added to milk or were ever present in milk. According to the USDA, all milk must be tested to ensure any antibiotics used to treat milk cows are not present in the end product. So, this cannot be a claim as it fundamentally untrue anyway. In fact, the terms 'antibiotic free' and 'no-antibiotic' are false claims that the USDA is trying to crack down on.
Similarly, the same can be said of the other claims, regarding pesticides and hormones. First, hormones will always be present in milk; it's part of the biology of a cow. To call milk 'hormone-free' is like making the claim that 90% ground beef is fat-free. But growth hormones, again according to the USDA, are only ever approved for beef cattle, plus lamb and veal. So, again another inflated claim. And by the way, Vitamin D3 is added to all milk…it is also a hormone.
Finally, pesticides. The FTC has ruled that a manufacturer cannot make a "no pesticide" claim as it is untruthful, because pesticides are never added to milk or milk products. It's like claiming that the new car you buy comes without chlorine gas inside the cabin. It's just not a claim.
"We allow our cows to make milk according to their natural cycle and keep them in good health by giving them certified organic feed, fresh air and access to pasture."
The key word here is 'access.' Right now at work I have access to the executive squash courts, but I am rarely allowed to use them, if at all. I'm too busy and I'm not an exec. Well, the cows at Horizon may have access to pasture but it's a known industry fact that milk cows don't spend their days grazing on green grass. They just get to look at it, cooped up in the usual factory-farming warehouses. Occasionally, when the press drops in, the cows may be allowed out for 20 minutes to make a good showing, but this is a rarity. For Horizon Milk to remain productive and profitable, they must keep their cows hooked up to the milking machines.
Horizon cows are hard workers. The average Horizon organic cow produces almost double the amount of milk of the national average. Which makes it even more difficult for these poor cows to step outside.
Then there are the slaughter rates. They're higher than the national average because, as no antibiotics are involved, they simply ship the cow off to slaughter if it gets sick. And as the factory-farming conditions are rife with disease and infection, this happens a lot.
p>We should also address the claim of certified organic feed. In the past, Horizon has and used and supported local area farmers. But the growth of the organic industry could not let the limitations of these small farms get in the way of making a profit. Now most of the feed that Horizon buys is shipped in on massive railroad cars, processed by a giant corporate agribusiness and then given to the cows. And much of this feed is irrigated by dams that have been condemned for destroying ecosystems. So, while it may technically fit the terms of the organic feed set out by the USDA, it does not support local farmers…and that was originally a backbone of the organic industry.
"…all of our products proudly carry the USDA Organic seal and that says it all."
The USDA Organic Seal can only be given to products that are made with 95% organic ingredients. But what does 'organic' mean? The most commonly accepted definition of "organically grown" food comes from Robert Rodale, editor of Organic Gardening & Farming magazine. This from 1972…
"Food grown without pesticides; grown without artificial fertilizers; grown in soil whose humus content is increased by the additions of organic matter, grown in soil whose mineral content is increased by the application of natural mineral fertilizers; has not been treated with preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, etc."
But in 1980 a team of USDA scientists concluded there was in fact no universally accepted definition for organic farming.
"The organic movement represents a spectrum of practices, attitudes, and philosophies. On the one hand are those organic practitioners who would not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides under any circumstances. These producers hold rigidly to their purist philosophy. At the other end of the spectrum, organic farmers espouse a more flexible approach. While striving to avoid the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, these practitioners do not rule them out entirely. Instead, when absolutely necessary, some fertilizers and also herbicides are very selectively and sparingly used as a second line of defense. Nevertheless, these farmers, too, consider themselves to be organic farmers."
So, in 1997 Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman stated the following:
"What is organic? Generally, it is agriculture produced through a natural as opposed to synthetic process. The natural portion of the definition is fairly obvious, but process is an equally critical distinction. When we certify organic, we are certifying not just a product but the farming and handling practices that yield it. When you buy a certified organic tomato, for instance, you are buying the product of an organic farm. And, consumers are willing to fork over a little more for that tomato. They've shown that they will pay a premium for organic food. National standards are our way of ensuring that consumers get what they pay for."
Get it? It's just another way of saying that the production of the food differed slightly than the production of regular food. Organic is not a term meaning that the content of the food is any different, just the way in which the manufacturer arrived at the end product.
And here's the punch line, taken directly from the USDA:
"No distinctions should be made between organically and non-organically produced products in terms of quality, appearance, or safety."
Basically, even with the USDA Organic Seal, the food can really make no claims that it is more nutritious, better quality or safer to eat. In short, organic food may in fact be almost no different at all than regular food. Until you notice the price tag…often double, or even triple the price of the same product without the USDA seal.
So, continue buying Horizon Milk if the copy makes you feel like you're doing something good. But now that you know it's not quite a truthful picture, maybe you can pass by the Horizon milk aisle and stop contributing to an enormous agribusiness that feeds us more lies than good products...and charges you extra cash for the privilege.