Posted tagged ‘Mark Kastel’

How Best To Protect Organic Integrity?

March 10, 2020

Big question. No clear answer.

And that’s a huge problem with the ongoing crisis in organic farming.

How best to protect organic integrity — fight to enforce the original (and now degraded) federal  standards or push for new voluntary standards as a supplementary label?

Opinions are divided.

This is part II of my Wisconsin Examiner series.

Mark Kastel, a passionate organic farming watchdog, lays out the crisis that is chipping away at the moral high ground occupied by organic food.

Consumers pay a premium price for federally certified organic farm goods, he says, not just for the selfish reason of protecting their own health from chemical additives, but also because “they believe they’re doing something good for society.”

Mark A. Kastel OrganicEye (via Kastel)
Mark A. Kastel
OrganicEye (via Kastel)

“They believe they’re supporting a more environmentally responsible way of farming. A more humane animal husbandry,” he says. “And they believe economic justice for the farmers and for the farm workers is built right into that higher price.”

All that is jeopardized, Kastel warns, when consumers learn things, like, a single milk-processing plant in Colorado, supplied by 5,000- to 15,000- cow factory farms, is shipping certified organic milk all across the country. That milk is faux organiche argues, and “undercuts real organic farms” in Wisconsin by cheating on the federal organic rules.

“When consumers find out that these cows have short, stressful lives just like cows in factory farms — that doesn’t sound like they’re paying for more humane animal husbandry,” he says. “And when they find out the people milking these cows are mostly hard-working, exploited immigrants living in trailers, they don’t feel good about that either.”

The crux of the problem as Kastel and other critics see it: “The factory-farm milk from the 15,000 cow dairy shares the same green and white organic label as milk coming from a 50-cow family farm in Wisconsin.”

To read more, please go here.

This Dairy World Watchdog Has A Bite

July 9, 2019

Hell, I’ll just say it. Pete Hardin is one of the best reporters I’ve met.

You’ve probably never heard of him because he writes about the troubled world of  dairy farming. This is a vitally important economic and cultural topic. But in our cloistered worlds of digital siloes, well,  news stories about the real silos in farm country never quite trend.

In a profile for Isthmus, I make the case that Hardin’s monthly dairy report, The Milkweed, is essential reading:

Year after year, Hardin has been a hard-edged voice challenging exploitative food processors, errant farm cooperatives, bullying seed companies, and self-serving agricultural groups that he feels habitually abuse the farmers who enrich them.

“Most of the organizations that allege to support dairy farmers suffer from mission failure,” Hardin says, sounding very much like a seen-it-all judge gaveling a verdict….

His reporting is intensely fact-based, assiduously sourced to the small-print revelations hiding in annual reports, nonprofit disclosure statements, court cases, and federal and state crop information.

He is a go-to source for other reporters, myself included. His observations on the dairy industry periodically are featured in national reports in The Washington PostThe New York TimesBloomberg Newsand such international outlets as Canadian and Japanese public television. He was also the subject of a 1984 cover story in Isthmus.

Rick Barrett, whose own deeply sourced reporting on the dairy crisis is receiving featured play in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, points out Hardin’s unique position in the dairy world.

“The farmers I meet on a day-to-day basis have a huge amount of respect for him,” Barrett says. “Pete Hardin is an icon in this state. There is no question about it. Even the people who disagree with him, or who don’t like his style of reporting, respect him….”

Hardin’s voice is more important that ever. I was tempted to add “in the dairy world,” but that would sell him short. With the dizzying decline of newspapers as a general news source, The Milkweed is essential reading for anyone — citizen, professor, activist, politician — who wants to understand the under-reported dairy crisis.

To read more, please go here.

At the Organic Farming Conference

March 8, 2010

This was my third year of covering the annual gathering of organic-farming advocates in La Crosse.  It’s always an interesting experience because of the unusual mixture of commerce and ideology.

As I said in the advance story  for WisBusiness.com: “The gathering is a combination pep rally, reunion, trade show, Chautauqua, political rally and big-time party for farmers who share a common mission of fighting industrialized agriculture and its dependence on chemical additives.” Read more here.

In a post-conference story, I detailed how the Wisconsin organic community is split by the new, tougher  pasture rules being enforced for dairies. Read about it here.


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