Horizon Organic has become the company that small-farm advocates and organic supporters tend to point to when they want to cite an example of how the industry has become compromised by big business.
Yet, where would American organic consumers be without Horizon's coast-to-coast presence, and its ability to deliver wholesome dairy products in a cost-effective manner?
Horizon fights the good fight, and the dairy company — owned by Dean Foods — has taken important steps over the past year to demonstrate to retailers and consumers that big is not necessarily bad. The centerpiece of this ongoing effort is an updated “standards of care” declaration, outlined in a 12-page document and published this spring. The list covers in detail the company's beliefs with respect to animal welfare and farm management.
The document addresses raising calves from certified organic mothers to guarantee the organic integrity of the herds from one generation to the next. With respect to grazing standards, Horizon's goals for its two company farms exceed the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company is also committed to following sustainable and holistic pasture management practices, and making sure its farms stay focused on the conservation of natural resources.
Ever since the national organic standards were released in 2001, industry leaders have talked about how the rules fell short in certain areas. Horizon's standards take the national standards to the next level, said Kelly Shea, Horizon's vice president of industry relations and organic stewardship.
“We created these to ensure, not only on our farms but throughout the organic dairy community, the highest levels of organic integrity, the highest levels of animal welfare practices and the highest level of environmental stewardship we can achieve,” she said.
Shea thinks it's only appropriate for an industry pioneer like Horizon to raise the bar on production standards. She hopes the company will start a public dialogue on the benefits of organic dairy, and even inspire rival companies to follow suit.
The standards are the result of several years of work within the company, Shea said. Horizon, she noted, also consulted outside groups, including Holistic Management International, the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Whole Foods Animal Compassion Foundation.