WhiteWave Foods has slammed “wildly false allegations” that a former Horizon Dairy milk farm breached US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) regulations.
The Cornucopia Institute, which represents the interests of the family scale farming sector in the US, last week called on the NOP Compliance and Enforcement Branch to “investigate the history of past illegalities at the former Horizon dairy near Paul, Idaho.”
In a legal complaint filed with the NOP , Cornucopia questioned the length of time cows at the Idaho farm were confined between milkings while it was operated by Horizon. It sold the farm in December 2013, but continues to source around 5% of its milk from the site.
Responding to the allegations, WhiteWave Foods accused Cornucopia of spreading “completely false information about the brand and its practices.”
“Cornucopia has a long history of making wildly false accusations about Horizon and in every instance Horizon has successfully proven that it has upheld the integrity of the organic program,” said a statement sent to DairyReporter.com.
“We are completely confident that while we operated the dairy we met all USDA organic regulations,” the statement continued. “In some cases we even exceeded the regulations. For example, our farm met the pasture regulations for nearly two years before they were officially implemented.”
Citing “new intelligence” provided by employees at the farm, Cornucopia claimed that grazing practices at the site while under WhiteWave management breached organic regulations.
Current rules require milk marketed as organic to come from cows that spend at least 120 days each year grazing.
“They have shared with us that throughout 2013 the dairy, which previously was milking twice a day and putting cows out between each milking, had been shifted to milking three times a day and confining cattle between two of the three milkings,” said Cornucopia in its legal complaint.
“Furthermore, the reported that fresh, high producing cows were being milked four times a day and entirely confined until their production dropped off,” it added.
Cornucopia filed almost identical complaints with the NOP Compliance and Enforcement Branch in 2005, then again in 2006. At time the farm was owned by Dean Foods, which completed a spin off of its WhiteWave Foods subsidiary last year.
In its letter to the NOP, Cornucopia claims that neither of the past complaints were investigated fully.
“Based on freedom of information documents previously obtained by The Cornucopia Institute, it does not appear that NOP investigators ever visited the Dean/WhiteWave operation in Idaho despite our multiple requests to have them fully scrutinized,” said Cornucopia.
WhiteWave Foods, however, denies this.
“The Cornucopia Institute has requested this farm be investigated twice since 2006. The farm was found to be in compliance in both instances and we feel strongly it will be this third time,” said the company.
The NOP sidestepped questions about the previous allegations, but vowed to investigate the fresh claims.
“The National Organic Program (NOP) investigates every complaint that it receives," said a statement sent to DairyReporter.com.
"When the program receives a complaint that alleges a violation of the organic standards, it assesses the complaint and the evidence provided, so as to determine the most effective means of investigation."
The regulator also declined to comment on possible implications of a regulation breach.
“While we cannot answer hypothetical questions regarding alleged violations, we can provide basic information about the complaint process. We also cannot discuss open complaints,” it said.