Can you trust organic dairy products?

Although I continually read up on green issues and organic food issues, I can’t be everywhere at once or read it all and sometimes even I run into greenwashing I didn’t expect. Such as with organic dairy.

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Recently I posted about how to choose sustainable dairy products – which is kind of ironic because I’ve actually been purchasing less than stellar organic dairy and didn’t even know it – lame right? And I consider myself pretty damn questioning and non-trusting when it comes to green. I review stuff almost to a fault before I recommend it to others yet I’ve been buying not-so-great organic milk.

This is what I mean when I say going green takes work. Lame greenwashing companies will try and sometimes succeed in winning you over. However, when it comes to dairy you’ve got some options – check up on the company and/or check the Dairy Scorecard from the Cornucopia Institute.

About The Dairy Scorecard:

The Cornucopia Institute, in their own words, “Is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community.Through research, advocacy and economic development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives.” I’m a fan of Cornucopia due to their killer reports on infant formula and soy but missed their dairy report (sadly) until recently.

The Cornucopia Institute Dairy Report and Scorecard rates dairy companies in an attempt to allow consumers to easily identify organic dairy products that have been produced with the best (and worst) organic practices. There’s an easy to use web-based dairy rating tool where you can identify the brands and products found in your region and examine their ranking, score, and how well they meet key criteria covering organic management practices.

The report is based on a year’s research into the organic dairy business. The scorecard rates approximately 110 different organic dairy brands and private-label products and the list is still continually updated.

What the original scorecard shows is that nearly 20% of the name-brands now available on grocery shelves scored a substandard organic management and policy rating. My milk scored a seriously poor rating.

The milk I was buying:

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Kroger Private Selection Organic Milk – Private Selection through Kroger, a private label, or store-brand product and they do offer organic milk. I like store-brand organics because well, they’re cheaper but still organic (in theory) – you see the allure. However, I should have done a better job at checking up on good ol’ Kroger because their milk doesn’t score well at all when it comes to organic perks. Kroger organic milk only scored one cow based on industry sources and governmental records. One cow is almost the worst rating an organic dairy can get and is defined by Cornucopia as, “These are “substandard” with some or all factory-farm milk or milk from unknown sources. (However, even though rated lower, we consider this milk to be superior to conventional milk).

I don’t really care that the milk is still, “superior to conventional milk” – If it says organic I want the full deal. Kroger, like 100% of the other private label milks researched, refused to tell Cornucopia, openly, where the heck they’re purchasing their organic milk from.

Cornucopia notes…

If these companies want to truly express a commitment to organics, and communicate this tangibly to their customer base, we would encourage them to specify on their label what dairy farmers and cooperatives they are “partnering with.” This will give consumers valuable information to judge their ethical approach and simultaneously afford farmers more marketplace security, as it will make it much more difficult to change suppliers quickly if competitors try to undercut current milk pricing.

No kidding. But, maybe Cornucopia isn’t always right – no one is always right – so at the Kroger site I tried to check out their organic milk. On their organic page there’s zero info other than a basic, “organics is good” speech and they note, “For organic certifying agency, see individual package.

Kroger’s press release on organics noted, “Kroger’s Private Selection Organic products always carry the USDA Organic Certified seal, assuring at least 95% of the ingredients used are organic. The seal means the products are free from antibiotics and growth hormones and have no added artificial preservatives or chemicals.” The USDA organic seal is the most trustworthy organic label we’ve got, however, I don’t have to tell you that organic and eco-friendly aren’t always the same. Also, organic standards are not always followed because of slack organic enforcement. We can’t trust that the USDA really wants organic rules enforced until we see some results.

I kept looking for more info on Kroger organic dairy and found almost nothing useful. Here’s what I know:

  • Kroger-label dairy and frozen dessert products are supplied by nine company–operated plants located in Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Livonia, Mich.; Lynchburg, Va.; Marietta, Ga.; Mufreesboro, Tenn.; Newark and Springdale, Ohio; and Winchester, Ky. (source)
  • If you believe everything you read on Wiki (I don’t) this might be a list of all their dairy locations. Then right after I found a list that looks much the same at Kroger.
  • Swan Island Dairy, the closest Kroger dairy to me has almost zero info online, including no website available. I found a picture too. Weeee! Technically I could go to the dairy and take pictures myself I suppose. According to one website, most of the Fred Meyer milk that enters the Swan Island plant comes from dairies in the Tillamook and Vancouver Washington areas but no word on which dairies exactly.

In any case the utter and total lack of info on Kroger organics in general and specifically their dairy makes me very suspicious. I’m a big believer in companies who are transparent and who freely give away information to consumers, something Kroger is clearly not doing. I won’t be buying Kroger brand organic milk – although the next time I’m at the store I’ll check their label to see if I can gleam anymore info regarding their certifying agency. I won’t be buying any other organics from them without seriously checking them out.

It’s not just Kroger you have to worried about…

Two of the largest organic dairy companies in the nation, Horizon Organic, owned by Dean Foods and , Aurora Organic Dairy were also called out by the Dairy Scorecard as being not so eco-friendly or organic and the same goes for most other private label store brands of dairy; including Trader Joe’s and Costco. I’d heard about the Horizon issues, but Trader Joe’s surprised me.

If you’re not sure if the dairy products you’re buying are really as organic as they should be, check out the dairy’s online rating with the dairy rating tool.

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REAL organic / sustainable dairy companies you can buy:

From now on we’ll be buying Organic Valley milk instead of Kroger brand. Some other decent organic dairy companies that sell nationally…

Do you trust organic store brands? This whole deal has made me think twice about store brand organics in general.

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  1. says

    I am just now working on switching over to organic dairy products and I started off doing lots of research. I also, have settled on Organic Valley as my choice of brand. I found Cornucopia’s rating chart invaluable. It’s interesting that you put Stonyfield on your list of trusted–from what I read they really aren’t, but maybe I had an outdated article.

    Good post, thanks for sharing. Good luck!

  2. says

    You and I think a lot alike. I try to believe in the products I’m buying, but I have changed every single product in my home in the last year and it’s all a bit overwhelming. The research is never-ending. And, like you, I often find that a product I believed in has let me down. I found you by googling Kroger’s organic milk. Your post is really helpful, and I’m going to be keeping up with you as I learn. Thank you for being here!

  3. Jennifer Chait says

    @Lori – I wonder how many people Google “Kroger milk!” I’ve done that too. I agree the research seems never ending. Sometimes it’s all too much. Like I’ve been meaning to research cookware better, but seriously, there is SO much info out there. Slow and steady I suppose… Thanks for stopping by and reading :)

  4. jay says

    That can’t label items ORGANIC unless its organic so I don’t see what all the fuss is about if you want pure milk farm raise the cows ya damn selfs don’t go putting other company’s downthat many other people use. I myself use meijer brand organic milk I found that the puretasting milk I ever drank that an organic valley.hope this will help.

  5. Sarah says

    Thank you for this entry – I was wondering the same thing about Kroger Organics and am glad you did the homework :). I am surprised about the Horizon though. I’ll have to be more careful with my purchasing!

  6. Tracy says

    Just letting you know, Trader Joe’s Organic milk and Organic Valley organic milk is all the same milk. It’s just different packaging.


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