Milk pitcher and glass

Organic Valley Fires Back, Misses the Mark

December 7, 2023 | Katherine Paul

Organic Consumers Association

Should you buy your organic milk and other dairy products from a company that supports a lobbying group that is suing the state of Vermont to overturn Vermont’s GMO labeling law?

You know where OCA stands on that issue, thanks to our campaign asking Organic Valley, Horizon Organic, and Aurora Organic Dairy to withdraw from the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

Now, we also know where at least one organic dairy company stands. And it isn’t with us.

But first, let’s back up.  July 23, 2014, OCA and some of our allies sent an open letter to Stonyfield Farms, Aurora Organic, Organic Valley and White Wave/Horizon, to let them know that organic consumers were outraged that leading organic dairy companies were paying membership dues and lending credibility to the pro-Monsanto IDFA.

The companies responded, as one, defending their membership.

Fast forward to December 2014, when Stonyfield Farms announces it is dropping out of the IDFA. OCA and our allies responded by sending a new letter to the remaining three top organic dairies—Aurora Organic, White Wave/Horizon and Organic Valley—reiterating our request that they follow Stonyfield Farms lead and dump their IDFA memberships.

This time, only one of the dairies—Organic Valley—responded. Here are some of their justifications for continuing to support the IDFA, followed by our responses.

We know that IDFA is working against us on GMO labeling. We are working in direct opposition to IDFA’s GMO stance. But IDFA is a trade organization for the dairy industry and does all kinds of useful things as well. We use this trade organization with logistical help in the transport of milk, in pricing, in packaging, and in representing many of our needs with lawmakers. Like it or not, IDFA has helped grow organic.

OCA, our allies, and most consumers recognize that your company has many complex business relationships in the dairy industry. We aren’t suggesting that you stop working with all of the members of the IDFA—only that you stop paying dues to the IDFA.

So the IDFA is imperfect. Just like most large, multi-faceted organizations. It is largely a conventional institution that has had a growing organic presence. Our companies have helped to grow the organic world by creating alliances, by helping to educate, and by being a part of the larger conversation. We understand that growing a new food system means continuing to work within the larger industry, and demonstrating to that industry the success and health of organic.

Imperfect?  In addition to supporting attempts to preempt states from passing GMO labeling laws, the IDFA attempts to spike kids milk with aspartame is criminal, its support for banning sales of raw milk is unconstitutional, and its opposition to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is, well, not cool.

Right now, we have a seat at the table. We’ve made our disagreement with IDFA’s involvement in Vermont clear to its leadership, and we will continue to be one of the voices supporting organic and labeling laws within this organization.

What good is your “seat at the table” if the IDFA refuses to recognize that its actions to overturn Vermont’s GMO labeling law is hurting your business? By that reasoning, why not have a seat at the table of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, another pro-GMO big spender? Or the Biotech Industry Association? Would OCA be able to advance the notion of peace on earth by having a seat at the table of ISIS?

We stand by our position that organic consumers expect the companies they support, to support GMO labeling laws. And by GMO labeling laws, we mean strong state laws, not a watered-down, voluntary federal bill with no meaningful impact.

Finally, we ask Organic Valley, Aurora Organic and White Wave/Horizon to consider this quote about “the company you keep:”

The company you keep defines you. Surround yourself with shining souls that inspire you, lift you higher and bring forth the best in you!

And this one: Reputation comes from the company you keep.

If the leading organic dairies want to be held in high esteem by consumers, they would be wise to quit hanging out with the corrupt lobbyists at the IDFA.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.