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BAMBOOZLED: Organic Farming is an Attempt to Capture High-Value Markets and Premium Prices…

By on Aug 9, 2013

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Those aren’t my words (okay, well maybe just the bamboozled part). Today’s blog post heading is actually extracted from a statement from the USDA Organic Certification Website!!!

I decided to venture into the unknown by simply googling Organic Farming Regulations. I know…its not 20 years of study, but it’s still information at your fingertips. I didn’t have to search too far because the first entries populated were documents written by the USDA on Organic Certification and Consumer Profiling.

My findings are not for the faint of heart or willing blind sheep. So if you are either of the aforementioned…RUN!

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Mommy and Baby Shopping

1. I love you, I care about you…now give me your money!
I know, it totally sounds like something an ex ex-boyfriend would tell you, but he’s not the only one. While weeding through the Organic USDA jargon, this is what I uncovered…

“U.S. producers are turning to certified organic farming systems as a potential way to lower input costs, decrease reliance on nonrenewable resources, capture high-value markets and premium prices, and boost farm income. Organic farming systems rely on ecologically based practices such as cultural and biological pest management, exclusion of all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones in crop and livestock production.”

Everything seemed in line until… I read the description again…and again…and again. Each time I just couldn’t shake the first line which clearly states that organic farmers are primarily interested in yielding more money by putting in less money, and that the new system is a way to “capture high-value markets and premium prices and boost farm income.” (Insert screeching halt here______)!!!

But wait…what about the animal rights and human rights I’ve been hearing so much about. Is that an afterthought?

In the beginning...

In the beginning…

2. It’s not about YOU, It’s about Mother Earth
If we simply look at the current landscape of organic products the consumer is inundated with messages that Organic Farmers treat animals better so that the consumer product is better…and ultimately healthier. We’re also getting messaging that Organic farmers are more socially responsible and respectful of Mother Earth by reducing their carbon footprint. But what about the humans struggling to live on mother earth? What about the humans that are going broke because they are brainwashed into believing that organic equals a healthier way of life? Which brings me to my next point….

The Nevels Clan

The Nevels Clan…minus our doggie

\3. Attention! Organic Consumers…We Know Who You Are!
Did you know there is also a profile on the make-up of an Organic Consumer? He/She Must be tall, dark and handsome!

No really, there is a profile. I uncovered a survey report written by Rachel Dettman of the Economic Research Service of the USDA. It’s an older report (presented in 2008- yes I need to find more current information), but it goes on to state that, at the time of study, industry research showed that half of frequent organic consumers made under $50,000, and that African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans purchased more organic products. Another study indicated that households with graduate degrees were less likely to buy organic products while households with children under 18 were more likely to buy organic products (hello fear- mongering spreading rampant amongst concerned parents and the agriculturally un-educated)!

So does this mean that well-intentioned, hard working, moms, dads and organic food- lovers are being bamboozled? Have I been had?

The article goes on to say that some of the research is conflicting, but could it still hold merit? For all intents and purposes is it fair to say that organic products were primarily purchased by people who could least afford to purchase them.

So my parting question is as follows: Is the selling and manufacturing of organic products really socially conscious?

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To read USDA guidelines click link
To read consumer profile study click link

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19 Comments

  1. I am loving following your “agricultural education journey” here on your blog! I grew up in and have been surrounded by agriculture my whole life, so I am coming from the total opposite side of the coin from you. I have blogged about agriculture for a while (unpolishedboots.blogspot.com), and have written many entries concerning food labeling and urging people to do some research before they spend all their money on labels that they don’t really understand! Needless to say, following your journey with Illinois Farm Families and beyond has been awesome for me to watch.
    **Please note, I would be considered a “conventional farmer,” but I am by no means anti-organic. I think there is a place for everyone and consumers should have a choice at the grocery store… as long as they understand what those choices are.
    I hope more people follow in your footsteps and start researching these issues instead of blindly going with what the media is telling them! (Hint: the media sides with whoever is willing to pay them the most. They don’t care about you or your family’s nutrition!)

    I would love to keep a conversation going with you. If you ever have any questions about agriculture please don’t hesitate to contact me! I would be happy to give you my 2 cents or show you to reliable sources of information regarding your questions. And of course, you would be welcome to visit our farm in northern Illinois anytime.

    • Amina Bennett

      August 9, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Hi Rosalie! Thanks for visiting me here. This really is a journey to discovery. I’m floored at how much I’m learning already that is totally debunking some of the myths I’ve been lead to believe about food safety and well-being.

      I definitely intend to stay connected and will take a look at your agriculture blog.

  2. Lyle

    August 9, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Hi Amina, I stumbled on your blog through Facebook. This is my 37th year of dairy farming with the last 11 years farming organically. The reason I went to organic was because of the corrupt and failed milk pricing system that’s in conventional. After going organic I saw it’s benefits through the health of my cows. Problems such as retained placentas, milk fever and mastitis became rare compared to when I dairy farmed conventionally. Then with a stable milk pricing system that just became an added benefit. The drawback is the extra paper work that is required for our annual organic inspection. Every thing we do has a paper trail. Also, it needs to be mentioned if conventional farming wasn’t heavily subsidized you would be paying a lot more.

    • Amina Bennett

      August 9, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Hi Lyle! Thanks so much for reaching out. So there is corruption in the pricing industry for milk? Can you explain this a bit further?

      Is a retained placenta, milk fever (which I have to look into because I’ve never heard of it) and mastisis that much more common amongst conventional dairy farms?

      And lastly, conventional farming is subsidized? By who? Why?

      I know–I’ve sent an onslaught of questions your way but these are things that are so new to me. It’s so helpful to have a farmers perspective. Thanks again for reaching out and please stay connected here. I’d appreciate hearing your perspective on future concerns.

    • Lyle

      August 10, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Hi Amina ,conventional milk pricing is based on what happens at the CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) where only a couple of players notably Kraft, bid on cheese which prices what every dairy farmer in the country receive for their milk. That’s hardly a free market. We used to have what they call parity until President Reagan got elected. Since then, milk paid to farmers have steadily dwindled when taken inflation into account,while consumers have had to pay more. The result has been the loss of thousands of dairy farmers. Thanks to the organic market, my state of Vermont has hundreds of thriving dairy farms.

      Retained placenta’s is a cow’s after birth which is a problem if they retain it after they have a calf. With mastitis, it certainly has become a lot less of a problem for me when I switched to organic production. On conventional farms, cows are pushed harder which puts more stress on a cow. When it comes to using antibiotics, fortunately for my farm it is rare. But we’re required to use them if it’s to save a cow’s life. I don’t agree that we have to sell the cow if we do, but that’s the rules. There’s no question there is an over use of antibiotics on conventional dairy farms which a lot of people believe, contributes to the growing phenomenon of antibiotic resistance.

      Dairy Program Subsidies in the United States totaled $5.3 billion from 1995-2012. http://farm.ewg.org/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=dairy

    • Amina Bennett

      August 11, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Thanks Lyle! I’ll definitely check this out. I’m currently reading a book about how KRAFT (and a couple other food giants) have monopolized the food market. It’s called “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the food giants hook us. Its incredible to see the inner workings of it all…but also a bit discouraging. Its a complex web of policy, personal agendas and power. sigh…

  3. Katie Olthoff

    August 13, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Oh, Amina. I so admire your research into all these agricultural issues, yet I feel bad for you, too. I know, when I first started researching things (mainly antibiotic use) there was so much conflicting information to sort through. It was overwhelming, and confusing, and had me questioning so many things.

    But in the end, I chose to believe in farmers and believe in science. You met conventional farmers and you know you can trust them. You also have organic farmers commenting here, and I’m sure they take great care of their animals as well. But we conventional farmers have science on our sides. Real science. Peer reviewed scientific studies, expert veterinarians, and major universities. Organic farming? Well, it has marketing teams on its side. And the media. Bamboozled is right.

    • Amina Bennett

      August 14, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Hi Lyle- Thanks for chiming in and adding the website to your post. Do you have any additional sources that I might be able to contact for the organic perspective? Are you familiar with any organic farms in IL? I’d love to pay a few a visit just so that I can see the difference in management. Are there any scientific studies of note that you might be able to send my way?

      I definitely think there is a reason why farmers have made the switch to organic, but based off of what I’ve seen and read, for the most part it’s been based moreso on compensation. I’d love a more well -rounded perspective.

    • JodiMae

      September 12, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Kinda late in the game to reply,but here goes. I work with farmers in N. Michigan, primarily dairy farmers. I grew up on a dairy farm as well so I know the industry fairly well.

      Lyle and Katie are both right. The 2 organic dairy producers that I work with are making more money than the conventional producers. The pricing system in dairy is convoluted at best. The dairy industry has been asking for a reform for years. The Organic producers that process their own milk (bottle, pasturize, and make their own dairy products.) are not participating in this mess. They get to set prices for their milk for what they feel it’s really worth. Good, bad, or ugly, this works for them. Yay for free enterprise!

      Conventional farmers typically don’t process their own milk. They “sell” it to the processor. Some of my bigger dairy farms ship their milk to the highest buyer. Shipping milk from Michigan to almost anywhere in the US. East of the Mississippi. Not sure the price difference is worth the diesel, but that’s what they do.

      As far as the product, the actual milk, both are equally nutritious for you. Conventionally produced milk is just as good as organic.

      Personally, I think organic farming methods are more intensive and more work. Not necessarily less expensive either, I think it’s just different.

  4. Kristy

    August 14, 2013

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    Another great post. I’m not sure as to how/why organic products are growing by leaps and bounds. I do not always understand or agree with marketing tools used. I do not always agree that ‘organic or all natural’ are better for the consumer, the environment or the animal.

    Organic practices have their place – even in a conventional system. I know many organic farmers have claimed they have less health problems with their animals when they have switched to organic. That fact may or may not be completely true. I will not question a farmer’s integrity on that. However, I have often wondered, (and witnessed) was there a way that they could have changed what they were doing in their conventional system (changed the housing design, changed the feed ration, changed their management style, etc.) and achieved the same health results? I wonder these things based on my experience of working with conventional herds that truly do not have huge health problems. For example, I was at a client’s farm the other day. They milk over 1000 cows, and the management was in total overdrive trying to figure out why they had 8 cows in their sick pen! 8 cows out of 1000 cows were sick and they were FREAKING OUT! So to say going organic is the only way to have healthy cows is a misnomer as well.

    As to milk pricing….it’s a bit of a mess to be truly honest. We do not have a good pricing system in the US and to change it truly takes an act of Congress….so you can imagine how easy that is! There is no perfect pricing system that is beneficial to large & small, conventional & organic, East & West coast, Northern & Southern dairies.

    I don’t agree with the subsidies statements above – as that typically causes people to think that dairy farms are living ‘high on the hog’ on government money. That is SOOOOO far from the truth. Dairy farms of all sizes are squeezed financially – when you are at the mercy of weather extremes (record drought last year and flooding this year) and the mercy of CME.

    However, I will state this – I do not believe that what consumers pay in the store for conventional milk reflects the true value of that milk. I truly believe that consumers should be paying more for milk! That would ensure fair pricing at the farm (of all sizes and make-ups), and give consumers a sense of the true value of food. However, the marketing experts tell us that consumers won’t pay more for milk, that there is a maximum amount that they will pay before consumption drops. To which my response is always – are you driving less now than 10 years ago?

    But….that’s just my opinion. I will honestly admit – I know a whole lot more about cows than I do marketing and pricing. That side of the industry gives me a migraine. :)

    • Amina Bennett

      August 14, 2013

      Post a Reply

      It really amazes me how things come full circle. A few years back I worked at CME giving tours of the trading floor and providing an explanation of the markets. At the time, my info shpills were primarily based on Pork Bellies (due to the nostalgia of it all), currency (because it was established by one of the chairman emeritus’ at the Merc) and the Nasdaq -100 (amongst other indices), but not once was there much buzz about milk. Is this an industry that is overlooked?

      While we’re seeing the changes in the grocery story, I’m not hearing much discussion (except on my post) about the Dairy. Then again, I am just now dipping my toe in the water.

      Regarding getting things done in Congress, that always seems like a battle. Its where ethics and policy start to get a bit murky. But here’s my question…not sure if its totally our of your jurisdiction, but here goes it:

      You hear a lot about lobbyists that are paid to move bills and get things passed quickly in Congress and in the Senate (some of these bills deal with the food industry). Why do you think that prices of milk have not been stabilized? Who are the key players in preventing this? Who are the lobbyists working on the Dairy side? What are the goals of the Dairy industry right now? Why is there (what seems to me to be) a feud between conventional and organic farmers if both are looking to create a healthy, plentiful product?

      I know…another can of worms…but I’m anxious to hear your thoughts…

    • Lyle

      August 14, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Kristy, when I went organic 10 years ago, there were no changes in my management style other than feeding organic grain and not using hormones and anti-biotic’s on my cows. I had always pastured the 26 years I farmed conventionally. I’m not suggesting conventional farms don’t have healthy cows. I was just stating what happened on my farm when I made the switch. My last SCC count was 69,000. My biggest complaint with conventional has always been the screwing dairy farmers get for their milk. What we got for a milk price in 1980 would be $36 cwt. today adjusted for inflation, even more than what I’m receiving for an organic milk price.

    • JodiMae

      September 12, 2013

      Post a Reply

      Kristy, you took the thoughts out of my head and made them sound good! That’s exactly what I wanted to say.

      Lyle, you are completely correct that the market price for conventional milk is horrible. Everyone really should be paying more for their milk, probably around what most organic companies charge for theirs.

  5. Theresa

    September 17, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Both Lyle and Kristy are correct. As an Organic Dairy Farmer in Illinois, selling our milk to Organic Valley Coop in Lafarge, WI, I would love an open and honest dialogue about organic farmers versus conventional. First, we organic farmers never wanted a fight with conventional, but after 11 years of being put down, laughed at, and dismissed as Niche farmers, we are fighting back. Our farm has been organic for 11 years, biological for 10 before that. We have been conventional farmers, so we know the gambit of chemicals, drugs, food additives, receiving pennies on the dollar for our product, and yes, the scientific production methods. None of your conventional farmers have any hands on knowledge of being an organic farmer, they are relying on studies put out by colleges funded by chemical companies and drug companies. Check out Rodals Institue, they have 25 year studies on organic versus conventional, check out MOSES.org, they are an organic educational group, and many more. You can check out our farm on organicvalley.coop click on “Who’s Your Farmer” and type in 61085, that is our farm featured, Westaby Family Farm. As far as organic farmers only doing it for the money, you couldn’t be more wrong. But, you answer me this, would you expect your husband to do his current job at the salary his father received 25 years ago? That is where the conventional price is. For our farm, we say when the soil is healthy, the animals will be healthy, we have cows having their 12th calf, we have generations of living cow mothers and their offspring standing side by side. We work with nature, not against it. Thanks for your time.

    • Amina Bennett

      September 18, 2013

      Post a Reply

      I love that this post is still getting comments as it is obviously a conversation that needs to be had between farmers and consumers.

      My biggest reason for writing this was to say that in the eyes of consumers, organic milk has been made synonymous with safer and healthier. But from what I found on the USDA website, it appears that a safe product is not the bottom line, but rather financial gain.

      I was unaware that the proper research isn’t taking place and a quick google search uncovered that Dow Chemical just donated 17 million dollars to U of Minnesota (over the course of 5 years) for research. I’d be curious to uncover the ethics behind some of this and will definitely reference the websites you mentioned.

      Thank you for posting here and if at all possible, would you be willing to allow for a visit to your farm? I’d love to see how you do things differently.

  6. Theresa

    September 19, 2013

    Post a Reply

    A new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finally calls out what scientists have known for years but which has only been talked about in hushed tones: We have to curb antibiotic use in this country. More than 2 million people get antibiotic-resistant infections and, worse, 23,000 die from them each year. This report calls for phasing out antibiotics in livestock production that have been linked to antibiotic resistant bacteria. “Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary,” says the report. Avoiding consumption of residual antibiotics is a big reason many consumers choose organic meats and dairy, especially for children. The USDA Organic standards do not allow antibiotic use in animal production unless other treatments are unsuccessful. If used, the animal cannot be sold as organic. “Statistics released by FDA show that animal production uses over 29 million pounds of antibiotics annually,” says Jessica Shade, Ph.D., director of science programs at the Organic Center (TOC), in a press release issued by the non-profit. “If everyone chose just one organic product out of every 10 they purchased, we could eliminate over 2.5 million pounds of unnecessary antibiotic use each year. That could go a long way in reducing the development of antibiotic resistance.” – See more at: http://rootstock.coop/new-cdc-report-time-to-phase-out-antibiotics-in-livestock-production/#sthash.y3Z4Mfeh.dpuf

    Check out the above report just posted.
    Yes, we do allow farm tours to select groups, but our farm is a working farm, not a show farm, so there is always work going on here and we would have to schedule around that. Thank you for allowing my comments and not dismissing me, I see on the other site that the wagons are circling and protecting, I wasn’t calling conventional farmer liars and deceivers like they are to us, I was saying organic is pure by our certification.

  7. Theresa

    September 20, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Also, on the watchusgrow.org site, I wrote that organic farmers have many natural remedies to use when a cow gets sick, we don’t just sell a cow because we can’t use antibiotics. Our cows are valuable to us and just getting rid of them is not an option we easily consider. Giving cows a shot of a synthetic hormone, man made, is not natural. Did they tell you they inject them every day? In comparison, it would be like a breastfeeding mother, injecting herself and producing twice as much milk every day. I’m not trying to convert you or anyone else, I’m a mother of 4 grown children, and I wanted the best for them myself. Just get the honest facts about what you are being told. Check out Institute for Responsible Technology, Rodale Institute,(spelled wrong above), check out the funding on the Stanford Study,open your eyes to the veil being pulled over them. It’s very interesting that the Illinois Farm Bureau, who is supposed to support “all farmers”, sends out these attacks against the organic farmers in Illinois, using people like you who just trust the “scientific research”, do your own research, education is your best option, but check out who is funding the reports before you believe everything they say.

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