What are some “true” organic dairy products?

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Our book club just finished reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and it touched off a lot of debate about what is truly “organic” and what isn’t. I wanted to learn more.  The Cornucopia Institute is a solid resource that rates dairy farms and their products.

Just who is the Cornucopia Institute?

The Cornucopia Institute is a progressive farm policy research group in Wisconsin.  Basically, I gather, but can’t confirm, they are lobbyists for family-scale farmers. But, in case you are put off by the term lobbyist- wait: the two founders of Cornucopia come from legitimate science and research backgrounds. Mark Kester, one of the co-founders, did extensive research on rBHG, revealing that cows were dying and whole herds were suffering from serious illnesses soon after they were injected. This crucial research led him to get involved with the development of the bill to regulate organic farming in Congress.  The other co-founder, Will Mantle, has written numerous articles on environmental, resource, food and health issues for national magazines and weekly newspapers.  He has also been a consultant on recycling, mainly for the municipal and industrial sectors.

So, in the end, I feel comfortable with using their research as a tool to answer my questions. The Cornucopia Institute publishes the Dairy List and Score Card- arranged by cow star ratings. (clever!). Here are some of the ratings of farms you might know.

The highest rating is 5 cows and the top score is 1200.

5 Cow Rating: Outstanding

  • Seven Stars-  (yogurt): 1190
  • Hawthorne Valley Farm- (yogurt, cheese, raw milk sales on the farm): 1190 (went up slightly from last year)
  • Butterworks Farm- (yogurt): 1190

4 Cow Rating: Excellent

  • Organic Valley- (full line dairy): 1115 (went down slightly from last year)
  • Amish Country Farms-  (fluid dairy): 1100
  • Whole Food Markets (365 Organic)-  (fluid milk products): 1070
  • Stonyfield- (yogurt, fluid milk) : 1035
  • Lifeway – (kefir): 1025
  • Nature’s One (infant formula): 1100

3 Cow Rating: Very Good

  • Ben and Jerrys- (ice cream): 780 (went up from last year)
  • Similac (Abbott Laboratories)- (infant formula, fortified with DHA/ARA- please see related Cornucopia report for possible side effects): 930

1 Cow Rating PRIVATE-LABEL (some or all factory-farm milk or unknown source, but better than conventional) Note: information based on ”industry sources” no private-label supplier participated in the study

  • Trader Joes (fluid milk products): 0
  • Wild Oats: 0
  • Costco (Kirkland or High Meadows): 0
  • Target (Archer Farms): 0
  • Horizon (Dean Foods): 0
  • Safeway (O Foods): 0
  • Kroger (Naturally Preferred): 0
  • Giant (Nature’s Promise): 0
  • Albertsons (Wild Harvest): 0
  • ALDI (Friendly Farms): 0

0 Cow Rating NO COWS (Ethically Deficient) Most produce or purchase factory farm milk – none were open enough to participate in this study

  • Back to Nature (Kraft): 0
  • Organic Cow (Dean Foods): 0

Any surprises for you? I was totally taken aback that Trader Joe’s milk got a 1 Cow Rating..and bummed.

To view a full list please visit: http://cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html

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  1. I’m pretty sure that Trader Joe’s rebrands Organic Valley milk (at least where I live–in St Louis). The milk comes in an identical gallon jug with identical date stamps and factory codes. Trader Joe’s is known to rebadge well-known brands and sell them for less, so it doesn’t surprise me. 1 cow here just means that there’s no info, which is also not surprising–they never disclose who makes their TJ’s branded products because it would dilute the original brand, but that doesn’t mean it’s not organic or healthy.

  2. John
    Thank u for the valuable information. I mainly buy trader joes milk so i am very glad to know the real info behind the milk production…..and relieved.

  3. Hey Ann,
    That’s great information. Thank you. I have bought that brand too. Great to have such a good sleuth on hand.

  4. Yes the documentary “Food Inc.” is a must see!

    Used the great website provided by Ann to find out the source of the organic milk bought at Trader’s Joe:

    First answer: a large producer named: “Guida’s Milk And Ice Cream”, which does not produce per se organic products, so digging more, I found out that “Organic Valley” has partnered with Guida’s Milk for organic production. So here you go, “Organic Valley” milk (4 stars in “Cornucopia’s rating) for the Trader’s Joe price !!! (much lower)

    On the Cornucopia scale, Trader’s Joe product is shown with 1 star, as they did not provide enough supporting information, which is consistent with their policy of protecting their source (usually a well known brand)

    Thank you again for this great article!

  5. Answering my own questions. I did some sleuthing. The carton has a plant tracking number. Ours is 42-153.

    Using this site:


    I was able to identify the farm in PA


    When I clicked on their product offering, I saw that they are branded under “Natural by Nature”
    and have 4 cows from Cornucopia. ( I am assuming that Fairway is just re-branding the same milk here)

    So that’s pretty cool!

  6. Thanks. I often buy the Fairway brand, which claims to be grass-fed. They are not included on this survey, but I wonder where that milk comes from.

  7. I LOVE this. My husband and I don’t drink cow’s milk anymore (aside from the stomach pains and gas, someone also said to me once, “Cow’s milk is meant to bring a couple of hundred pound calf into a several hundred pound cow… think about what it’s doing to you”), but I imagine that site is also good for goat’s milk. I’m really glad I found you guys…. the world of organic can be confusing!!!

  8. I was totally rocked by Food Inc too: we have changed our meat and dairy buying. It made me so angry too….

  9. Great post! I have a 15 month old baby and have been only giving him organic milk however, recently I read that ultrapasturized milk isn’t beneficial. It may not contain hormones and pesticides but it also lacks any nutrition. I am having a hard time finding a balance! My store milk is not ultrapasturized but also not on this list. Ugh.

  10. Great post Karen! We recently watched Food Inc. and it totally changed the way we are eating and shopping. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it

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