Thursday, May 06, 2004

It looks like the spike in milk prices in the US is making organic milk and cheese look suddenly affordable.
"The price gap is narrowing," said Phil Lempert, a market researcher who runs the Web site supermarketguru.com. "Dairy products for organics are going to hover at about 10 percent more than non-organics, and when it becomes 10 percent more it's within reach of practically everybody." . . .

Milk prices are at their highest levels in years as production has fallen, mostly due to a halt in imports of Canadian dairy cattle after the discovery of mad cow disease in Canada a year ago. Increased slaughter of dairy cows due to strong demand for beef has also curtailed milk output, sending prices soaring.
Don't get too excited about Horizon Organic, however, the main topic of this story. First of all, it's owned by Dean Foods, the dairy processing giant that makes its living by screwing small dairy farmers. Michael Pollan has called Horizon "the Microsoft of organic milk" -- hardly a compliment. Second, big organic dairy is not all it's cracked up to be. It means no growth hormones and organic corn, granted. It also means confined animal feeding operations and "ultrapasteurization" which extends the shelf-life and reduces the nutritional value of the milk. It's necessary, however, in order for Horizon to ship the stuff all over the country. Organic milk from Horizon is the least fresh milk you can buy.

As Michael Pollan has aptly put it, Horizon Organic and those like it are part of an "organic-industrial complex" little different from the one that produces non-organic industrial food. If the rising cost of milk and cheese is making you change your buying habits, look to local producers instead of Big Organic. They're usually organic or very close to it, but don't want the hassle of getting government approval for the word. They also produce the freshest stuff you can buy from grass-fed cows who walked around on the actual dirt (increasingly uncommon for dairy cows nowadays). You'll be glad you did.

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