Large southwest dairy farm could lose organic certification following USDA investigation

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: organic dairy, certification, USDA

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(NaturalNews) The first dairy to ever become US Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic in the State of Arizona is now set to lose that certification following an investigation spearheaded by the Cornucopia Institute (CI), a small-scale organic farm advocacy group. Shamrock Farms has allegedly been breaking USDA rules for organics by confining cows and restricting their access to pasture, and the USDA is finally getting around to taking action more than three years after CI lodged an initial complaint.

According to reports, Shamrock Farms milks roughly 16,000 cows at its southern Arizona facility. Somewhere between 700 and 1,100 of these cows are intended to be organic as part of a "split operation," which is somewhat common at larger dairies. But a CI investigation has revealed that Shamrock has routinely failed to uphold organic standards for these cows, and the USDA has been slow to respond.

"We found inadequate, overgrazed pasture adjacent to their milking facility, and we were told by Shamrock employees that the confined cows had not been out in weeks," said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at CI. "This dairy operation never should have been certified in the first place, and it's unacceptable that it took more than three years from the time of our complaint to the announcement of this enforcement action."

Kastel and his crew filed their complaint against Shamrock back in 2008 during the Bush administration, and had hoped that the incoming Obama administration would take care of the matter quickly. It turns out, though, that CI has had far more trouble getting the Obama USDA to respond to organic enforcement issues. CI says the Obama USDA has been more secretive and uncooperative than the Bush USDA, even as it handles decertification.

"Besides the unacceptable delay, what is outrageous about this notice is its lack of transparency," added CI's Research Director Will Fantle concerning Shamrock's organic certifier, Quality Assurance International (QAI), issuing a Letter of Proposed Suspension to the dairy, and the Obama USDA's refusal to make it fully public. "Even the Bush administration was willing to inform the public when an enforcement action took place and fully delineate the violations that were confirmed."

CI has gone after other organic "cheaters" in the past as well, including Aurora Dairy in Colorado and its dealings with Promiseland Livestock ( Since the USDA has a track record of failing to enforce organic standards on its own, CI and others must step in on behalf of small-scale farmers and the public to ensure that organic standards are maintained for everybody.

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