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In August 2022, Horizon Organic will end its contracts with small and medium-sized organic dairy farmers across New York
Senator urges the USDA to close loopholes and provide long overdue protection for the organic dairy industry and farmers’ livelihoods
Schumer to USDA: Receive ‘Moo’-ving to protect our organic dairy farmers in the backcountry
After the news that Horizon Organic, a subsidiary of the multinational food company Danone, is planning to terminate contracts with organic dairy farmers across New York in August 2022, Senate majority leader Charles E. Schumer today met with US Senator Patrick Leahy and other Senators of the Northeast teamed up to call on US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to fill organic gaps, step up enforcement, and use whatever tools are available to help small and medium-sized organic dairy farmers as quickly as possible to support. Schumer said organic dairy farming, particularly through family farms in New York, is a major economic engine in the Northeast and serves as a community anchor for many rural economies.
“New York dairy farmers are the lifeblood of the backcountry economy, and after years of being wiped out by a system that disadvantaged them, they are now on the brink of an economic abyss.” said Senator Schumer. “For an industry with wafer-thin margins and historic losses during the COVID crisis, the loss of their contracts with Horizon Organics will be the last move on the carpet for many family-owned organic dairy farms. Minister Vilsack and the USDA must act immediately to ensure the long-term economic viability of our Upstate organic dairy farmers and to close loopholes that threaten the entire industry. “
The Origin of Livestock Rule, which was first launched in 2015, would close a gap that has allowed large producers in some states to switch animals in and out of organic farming and sell them under an organic label. The Senator argued that this practice not only threatens the existence of small and medium-sized organic dairy farmers, but also undermines consumer confidence in the organic label, which leads to an overall negative assessment of the entire industry. Therefore, Schumer called on the USDA to finalize the Origin of Livestock rule and close the loophole in organic dairy farming.
Schumer also urged the USDA to use whatever tools the agency has to assist farmers affected by Danone’s decision to terminate contracts and to work with stakeholders to expand market channels for their products. These include expanded support through the USDA’s pandemic support program for producers, targeted investments in processing capacity and transport efficiency for companies that can contract with these farmers, and temporary price supports to help these farmers transition to new markets.
Senator Schumer joined Senators Leahy, Sanders, Welch, King, Hassan, Gillibrand and Collins as well as Representatives Pingree, Stefanik, Kuster, Pappas and Golden in a letter to Secretary of State Vilsack:
Dear Secretary Wilsack,
We are writing to you today to ask for your urgent action to support organic milk producers in our states who are facing market losses. As you know, Danone, a multinational food company and owner of Horizon Organic, recently informed 89 farmers in Vermont, Maine, New York and New Hampshire that their milk contracts are being terminated through August 2022 all out of New England.
Danone appears to be consolidating its offer to prioritize more concentrated producers in the transport industry and to give up smaller and more dispersed family businesses. We believe that this matter underscores the long overdue need to close existing loopholes in the rules governing the transition from animal husbandry to organic husbandry and to strengthen the enforcement of the grazing regime, especially for large complex dairies. We ask the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use all necessary funding sources and programs to support organic farmers in our region during this time of market upheaval.
The organic dairy industry is a major economic engine in the Northeast, and these farms serve as anchor businesses for many of our local rural economies. But for years, organic dairy farmers in our region have had a considerable competitive disadvantage, which now threatens their existence and shatters consumer confidence in the organic label. The Origin of Livestock Rule, which you first initiated in 2015, would fill a void that has allowed large-scale producers in some states to rapidly grow their herds through the continuous transition of conventional animals in and out of organic farming. The USDA’s ongoing delay in finalizing this rule, which continues to enjoy broad industry support, has contributed to the oversupply of organic milk in the market, compromised the integrity of the organic label, and plunged farmers in our states into a serious crisis financial disadvantage.
After years of inactivity by the USDA, the Additional Consolidated Funds Act 2020, which went into effect December 20, 2019, included an explicit instruction from Congress for the USDA to complete the Origin of Livestock Rule by July 17, 2020, a directive which has still not been fulfilled. On July 12, 2021, a comment period on the proposed rule ended for the third time in over six years, and we urge you to adopt a final rule now, reflecting the thousands of comments since 2015 and the intent of the. complies with Organic Food Production Act and meets consumer expectations as quickly as possible. This measure, combined with increased and consistent enforcement of existing organic regulations such as the pasture regulation, will help restore the same competitive conditions that farmers in our region need.
In addition to restoring and maintaining the integrity of the organic label, we respectfully ask you to use all the tools at your disposal and work quickly to support the farmers affected by the Danone decision and to work with stakeholders to open the market channels for their Products to expand. These include targeted and increased support through the USDA’s pandemic support program for producers, targeted investments in processing capacity and transport efficiency for companies that can contract with these farmers, and temporary price supports to enable these farmers to transition to new markets.
We thank you for your immediate attention on this matter and for your continued support to our dairy farmers. Work landscapes and family farms are fundamental to our region, and a healthy, viable organic milk market is essential to the economic, environmental and social fabric of our countries. We look forward to working with you and key stakeholders to mobilize all available resources to protect the livelihoods of these farming families and the future of the organic dairy sector.