How Organic is that Milk?

Are some organic dairy products “more organic” than others? That is a question a lot of consumers have been asking since recent news accounts about so called “organic” dairies whose cows rarely make it out of the barn.

While most of us have an image of organic milk coming from cows on small family farms contentedly spending their days in the pasture munching on grass, recent years have seen the advent of industrial scale “organic” dairy operations of upwards of 6000 cows. Cows in these factory farms are milked three times a day and are confined for most of the year.

Recently, a report has been published by the Cornucopia Institute called Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk. The report‘s intention is to pull back the veil and see how well different organic brands measure up when rated by a number of key criteria covering organic management practices.

The good news is that the vast majority of organic brands come from farms that follow accepted legal and ethical standards. We were glad at Rainbow to see that some of our favorite brands including Strauss, Organic Valley, Stoneyfield and Nancy’s received excellent ratings.

The bad news is that there are a few brands who appear to be “gaming the system” by stretching the clear intention of the organic regulations to allow practices that most reasonable people would not consider “organic.” The report was particularly critical of private label brands. As often happens, where there are strong pressures to bring in a product at a lower price, quality and standards are compromised.

The report, as well as a scorecard on 68 different organic dairy brands can be found at the Cornucopia Web site at