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Who's Really Behind Organic Food Brands Like Amy's and Odwalla?

Over the past decade many small organic food brands have been snapped up by giant corporations. Clearly, this can be bad for standards and quality.

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Organic Valley
Organic Valley is a true cooperative of family farms, meaning all farms that sign on share in the management and the profits. The company is involved in advancing the organic movement through organizations like Rodale Institute. Their website is very interactive. You’ll find various community pages and a cool little calculator that lets users figure out how many pounds of synthetic nitrogen, pesticides and fertilizers they’ve prevented from being released into the soil, air, and water through buying Organic Valley products. I buy my dairy products from local-regional suppliers, but if I’m in a big national grocery chain store and I have a choice between the store brand, Horizon, or Organic Valley, I’ll always choose Organic Valley.

Stonyfield * Editor's Note: Please see the response below from Stonyfield Farms.

Depending on whom you ask, founder and CEO Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm is a sell out or a visionary. French company Groupe Danone bought a huge ownership stake in the company, but Hirshberg is still CEO. Critics charge that companies like Stonyfield dumb down organics by engaging in questionable sourcing. A few years ago when the demand for organic milk outstripped supply, Stonyfield was under fire for buying powdered milk from New Zealand and shipping it here to make yogurt. This year, Stonyfield got into trouble with organic farmers because when demand for organic milk went down and the big companies (like Hood, Stonyfield and Horizon) stopped buying or lowered the prices paid farmers, dairy farmers were left holding the bag.

White Wave – Silk
White Wave, the company that makes Silk Soymilk, was once thought of as one of the most exemplary companies in the organic business. When Dean Foods bought the company in 2002 things slowly started changing. They introduced new flavors made with non-organic soybeans, and this year they did something unforgivable to many. They sneakily changed all the Silk soymilk products to natural from organic. They didn’t change the packaging, UPC codes or prices and they didn’t inform consumers or their grocery customers. All they did was very, very quietly change the word “organic” to “natural” on the front of the package. But then what do you expect from Dean Foods? See above.

People buy organic and natural foods for many reasons: their own personal health, the health of the planet, matters of taste and the desire to support family farms. When faced with the dizzying array of choices on the shelves, it’s satisfying to look behind the marketing hoopla and choose the products that are most likely to align with your own personal values.

*Editor's Note: Below is a response from Stonyfield Farms:

Every organic ingredient we purchase has been certified organic through a rigorous process using third-party certifiers and by meeting other requirements as outlined by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards. Stonyfield was an active participant in the formulation of those standards, and we worked hard for their implementation in 1992. We’re also proud that our organic ingredient purchases support more than 100,000 acres of organic farmland, keeping toxins out of the air, water, soil and food.

We source all of our milk from family farmers in the US. We have not purchased milk from New Zealand. At one time, we did investigate getting organic milk from family farmers in New Zealand in the event that our US organic milk supply couldn’t cover our needs. This situation never came to pass.

Milk for our organic yogurts is sourced through Organic Valley/CROPP and the milk for our organic milk brand is sourced by HP Hood, so we don’t pay farmers directly. What we have done is worked behind the scenes with both these partners to try to lessen the impact on farmers due to an organic milk oversupply and softening consumer demand. Our efforts have included Stonyfield giving a group of Hood-terminated farmers in Maine $50,000 to support their efforts to get a Maine organic milk brand off the ground. It has also included ratcheting up our marketing to try to stimulate sales. We also work hard to communicate the health and environmental benefits of organic food to convince consumers that organic milk is worth the price.

We take our obligations to farmers seriously, and our sourcing practices are constantly reviewed and refined. We pride ourselves on “walking the walk” as well as “talking the talk” as a responsible business and an organic pioneer.

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