The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic advocacy group, has taken to the air to highlight what it calls abuses to organic milk, meat and egg production standards.
Cornucopia contracted for aerial photography in nine states, taking photographs of confinement livestock facilities it says fail to meet federal organic grazing and outdoor access requirements.
"The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture," said Mark A. Kastel, Cornucopia Institute senior farm policy analyst. "The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100% of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots."
There is nothing in the federal organic standards pertaining to the size of any given operation.
"The organic standards are scale-neutral," said Kastel. "However, if properly enforced the standards are scale-limiting. At some point the magnitude of these operations becomes preposterous — because their practical ability to meet minimum organic and humane livestock standards becomes impossible."
Cornucopia said it had filed formal legal complaints against 14 livestock operations the group alleges are producing and marketing milk, meat and eggs that aren't meeting federal organic standards. Cornucopia also lashed out at USDA, charging the agency with failing to enforce the federal standards.
The organization said the wheels of justice are slow.
"The inaction by the USDA places thousands of ethical family-scale farmers, who are competing with a couple of dozen giant dairies, at a competitive disadvantage," said Kevin Engelbert, a New York-based dairyman, milking 140 cows who, along with his family, was the first certified organic dairy producer in the U.S.
Engelbert, who also previously served on the USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), serves as Cornucopia's board vice president.