Complaint requires clarification of the organic pasture rule
Wisconsin advocacy group says Case Vander Eyk Dairy violated national organic rule

Posted March 2, 2005, Dennis Pollock, The Fresno Bee via CropChoice: A Wisconsin advocacy group has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture saying that the Case Vander Eyk Dairy near Pixley has violated national organic rules that require pasture feeding of cows.

Case Vander Eyk Jr. would not comment about the complaint lodged by the Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit farm policy research group based in Cornucopia, Wis.

USDA spokeswoman Joan Schaffer said the complaint is still being reviewed. She also pointed out that a livestock committee of the National Organic Standards Board has developed "a clarification" of organic dairy requirements that will be considered when the board meets this week.

The committee is seeking to clarify such terms as "pasture" and "temporary confinement," those periods when animals may not be able to graze on pasture land. Federal rules state cows can be fed certified organic feed at times, but a significant portion of what they eat must be from pasture land.

Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst with the Cornucopia Institute, said the board's actions are aimed at developing guidelines for those who certify dairies as organic. He believes the standards have been clear and enforcement has been lax.

The Vander Eyk operation is one of three huge organic dairy operations that the institute has targeted on allegations of not meeting pasture requirements. The institute also has complained about a 4,000-head Idaho farm and about the Aurora dairy, a 5,700-head operation in Colorado.

All three supply milk for Dean/Horizon, which Kastel terms "the nation's largest organic dairy marketer."

Kastel said the Vander Eyk dairy is "a split operation" that includes about 7,000 conventional cows and about 3,000 organic animals.

"As demand for organic milk has skyrocketed, investors have built large industrial farms mimicking what has become the standard paradigm in the conventional dairy industry," Kastel said. "It is our contention that you cannot milk 2,000 to 6,000 cows and offer them true access to pasture as required by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990."

Unlike beef cattle, Kastel said, dairy cows must be pulled together two or three times a day for milking. "That would mean walking miles a day" over pasture land, he said.

Kastel contends that smaller organic farms that operate by national guidelines are placed at a disadvantage.

"Real organic farms have made great financial investments in converting to pasture-based production, while it appears that these large corporate-dominated enterprises are happy just to pay lip service to required organic ethics," he said.

The institute says Vander Eyk has access to 10,000 acres of pasture, but that is located near Ducor, miles from the dairy's main operation. "The dairy reportedly trucks cows to the Ducor pasture, but the Cornucopia Institute contends that this approach is not used with lactating animals [those being milked]."

Last month, Case Vander Eyk Dairy paid $360,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by milkers who said they worked unpaid overtime, were not given rest and meal breaks and were not reimbursed for equipment that they purchased for use in their jobs.