Does Horizon Think We Just Fell Off the Turnip Truck?

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To the editor:

We know from empirical evidence (numerous industry surveys) why consumers usually first come to organics. And it’s selfish—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Consumers usually seek out organic foods because they are concerned about their health and well-being or very commonly the health and well-being of their children and families. And we all care deeply about our loved ones.

But many organic consumers quickly find more meaning in their food. Through focus group work at The Cornucopia Institute, we have come to believe that the reason there currently is so little price resistance in organics is that consumers think that they are not only doing something good for themselves, they feel they are also doing something good for society. For many there is an altruistic component to being an organic consumer.

They believe they are financially supporting a different kind of environmental ethic, a more humane animal husbandry ethic, and they think they’re supporting economic justice for family farmers.

That’s why the deception perpetrated by Dean Foods, the largest milk bottler in the United States, and owner of the Horizon label, has been such a hot-button issue among co-op members. Some consumers have expressed outrage at learning that some of Horizon’s milk, a brand they have loyally supported, comes from factory farms milking as many as 10,000 cows in confinement conditions. That’s not organic in the eyes of the consumer!

Horizon has responded to a consumer boycott launched by the Organic Consumers Association, and the dropping of their products by at least 50 cooperative grocers (many others tell us that they never sold Horizon products in the first place) with an expensive “greenwashing” campaign.

The Cooperative Grocer is not the only magazine that ran full-page color advertisements for Horizon. Similar ads have run in Organic Gardening, Yoga Journal, Mother Jones, Natural Home, Utne Reader, etc. I don’t have to tell you what demographic Horizon is hoping to reach—your members.

This is just like corrupt politicians who believe they can cleanse their reputations by raising enough campaign contributions and buying “good press” in advertising. Horizon is frustrated because all the news coverage, from the New York Times, to National Public Radio, and yes, in the pages of Cooperative Grocer, has been highly critical of the $11-billion dairy goliath.

For those who have not been exposed to both sides of this debate, regarding the factory-farm takeover of organic dairy, we would encourage you to visit our website to read the comprehensive report, “Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk.” And while you are there please visit the photo gallery to view some of the factory farms supplying Horizon, including shots of cattle standing in their own excrement in feedlots. Then I would ask you to compare those images to the beautiful photos that Horizon is publishing as part of their campaign to cleanse their reputation. You folks be the judges regarding Dean/Horizon’s corporate ethics.

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Mark Alan Kastel is senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute (www.cornucopia.org).

See other articles from this issue: #129 march - april - 2007