America’s Largest Corporate Dairy Processor Muscles Its Way into Organics

Clout-Heavy Dean Foods Kills USDA Investigation of Their Horizon Label

CORNUCOPIA, WI:  After a three-and-a-half year battle with Dean Foods  
regarding the legality of milk it labels as Horizon Organic, the  
country’s most aggressive organic industry watchdog filed additional  
legal actions today.  Dean, the nation’s largest dairy processor,  
with nearly $12 billion in sales and controlling 50 different milk  
brands, has obtained a large percentage of its organic milk supply  
from giant factory farms milking thousands of cows each.

The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group and family  
farm advocate, filed a formal legal complaint with the USDA claiming  
that one of Dean’s Horizon suppliers, a dairy in Snelling,  
California, was skirting the law by confining the majority of their  
cows to a filthy feedlot rather than allowing them fresh grass and  
access to pasture as the federal organic regulations require.

Cornucopia has also asked the Inspector General at the USDA to  
investigate appearances of favoritism at the agency that has  
benefitted Dean Foods.  Cornucopia charges that past enforcement of  
the Organic Foods Production Act, the law governing organic food  
labeling and production, has been unequally applied toward major  
corporate agribusiness by the USDA.

“We are asking the USDA, once again, to investigate serious alleged  
improprieties at dairies that produce Horizon organic milk,” said  
Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst with the Wisconsin-based  
Cornucopia Institute.

Besides the legal issues that Cornucopia raised, they suggest Dean  
Foods has seriously injured the value of its Horizon label and the  
reputation of organic milk.  “In the eyes of consumers, factory farms—
with questions about humane animal husbandry and records of endemic  
pollution—do not meet the ethical litmus test,” Kastel added.

Cornucopia’s most recent complaint is the third filed with the USDA  
alleging Dean Foods has broken the federal law that governs organic  
production.  Prior complaints also charged Dean was confining cattle  
on their two corporate-owned dairies, managing as many as 8,000 head  
of cattle each.

Although the USDA, based on Cornucopia research, sanctioned or  
decertified two independent factory farms supplying Horizon, the  
federal agency dismissed both legal complaints against Dean Foods  
itself.  According to documents obtained under the Freedom of  
Information Act (FOIA) by Cornucopia, the USDA never investigated or  
even visited Dean’s largest corporate-owned industrial dairy, in the  
desert-like conditions of central Idaho.

“It appears that Dean Foods has more political clout in Washington  
than the two independent factory farm operators that were found to  
have been abusing the trust of organic consumers,” according to Will  
Fantle, Research Director at Cornucopia.

According to FOIA documents, Dean Foods hired lawyers at Covington  
and Burling, one of the capital’s most powerful and influential legal  
and lobbying groups, to plead their case.  “The USDA closed  
complaints we filed in 2005 and 2006 without ever having visited the  
Horizon dairy in Idaho, and warned Dean Foods in advance before  
inspecting their Maryland farm,” stated Fantle.

In a letter to USDA Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong, Cornucopia  
asked her to investigate why the agency arbitrarily chose to  
adjudicate some of the formal legal complaints filed by Cornucopia  
but looked the other way when it came to the largest corporate dairy  
processor and marketer in the country for almost identical alleged  

Cornucopia’s letter stated, “Conditions on the 8,000-head factory  
farm operated by Dean/Horizon in Idaho were very similar to the  
factory farms that the USDA has already sanctioned.  The only  
discernible difference appears to be how much money Dean Foods has  
spent on lobbyists and campaign contributions in Washington.”

The Cornucopia Institute’s latest complaint against the Fagundes  
dairy in California calls into question Dean Foods’ marketing claim  
that “80% of our milk comes from … family farmers.”

“We have been challenging Dean Foods’ greenwashing of their Horizon  
label for a number of years now,” stated Kastel.  One of Horizon’s  
decertified suppliers, milking 10,000 cows, in a feedlot in Pixley,  
California, was categorized as a “family farm” by Dean.

“My family and 1800 or so other organic farmers around the country  
have worked hard to build the stellar reputation organic dairy  
products deservingly enjoy in the eyes of consumers,” lamented Tony  
Azevedo, one of the first organic dairy farmers in California milking  
350 cows near the town of Stevinson. “Virtually every other name-
brand organic dairy product in the country depends exclusively on  
real family farmers to produce their milk.  We don’t want subterfuge  
by confinement dairies giving us all a black eye and endangering our  

“Ninety percent of all participants in the marketplace are  
approaching organic dairy production ethically,” emphasized  
Cornucopia’s Kastel.  A comprehensive report and scorecard, listing  
organic brand-name and private-label organic dairy products, can be  
found on The Cornucopia Institute website:

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In addition to filing a formal legal complaint against Fagundes dairy  
with regulators at the USDA, Cornucopia also sent the complaint to  
the California Department of Agriculture that also oversees organic  
production in the state.

Although past complaints regarding the integrity of organic  
production have sometimes taken months or even years to adjudicate at  
the state and federal levels Cornucopia’s concerns elicited a  
response in less than 24 hours from the dairy’s organic certifier,  
CCOF, based in Santa Cruz, California.  In a letter to Cornucopia  
CCOF said, “Please note that CCOF takes organic livestock living  
conditions extremely seriously.’ They added, “We will immediately  
initiate a full investigation which will include an on-site  
inspection of the operation.

Organic certifiers are on the front lines of efforts to protect  
consumers and ethical farmers from fraud.  “The immediate and serious  
tone from CCOF should not be surprising as the certifier has been one  
of the most highly respected organizations in the organic movement  
since its founding in the early 1970s, said Fantle.

The letter sent to the USDA Office of Inspector General can be viewed  

The formal legal complaint filed with the USDA regarding alleged  
violations at the Fagundes organic factory farm dairy can be viewed at:

Images of the Fagundes operation can be viewed at:


“Pasture has always been the cornerstone of organic dairy  
production,” stated Azevedo.

“Although we know it’s not 80% of their milk supply, we have no  
reason to believe that the family farmers that do supply Dean Foods’  
Horizon label are not as every bit as ethical as the family-scale  
dairies that supply other processors in the industry,” according to  
Kastel, who tracks dairy policy for The Cornucopia Institute.  The  
Institute estimates that at least half of Horizon’s organic supply  
comes from legitimate and ethical family farmers who understand and  
abide by the federal organic regulations.