Mass Produced Health

Organic food is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, leaving some organic food makers to make radical changes as they become more corporate and attempt to satisfy demand.

The word organic evokes a certain image: animals grazing on hilltops of pure clover and Earth-loving family farmers mixing small batches of goodness.

But that image is quickly changing as more companies that started down on the farm are part of multi-billion dollar conglomerates.

Stonyfield Farm sold $211 million worth of organic yogurt last year, but the company could sell twice as much if it could find enough ingredients.

The company charges about 30 percent more than its competitors per serving with the promise that everything inside is pure -- no hormones in the cow, no pesticides in the cow's food.

But Stonyfield Farm is finding it is increasingly difficult to satisty that credo and keep up with demand.

"Unless the big guys enter, it's never going to get to that point of promise or possibility. We can't just sit around in circles singing 'Kumbaya' and build an industry," said Gary Hirshberg, CEO and co-founder of Stonyfield Farm.

The former windmill maker said he's looking "everywhere" for organic milk, fruit and sugar including strawberries from China, apple puree from Turkey and blueberries from Canada.

If the organic dairy shortage continues, he'll ship powdered milk 9,000 miles from New Zealand to New Hampshire.

This environmentalist also worries about the food and labor standards in places like China.

"We had to take a long hard look and in fact, ultimately we had to hire three different auditors to go in and actually inspect … the fields," he said. "It wasn't enough for us to just depend on the USDA auditors."

Saving Your Health, and the World

Another difficult balancing act for organic food makers trying to keep up with demand is pasture time. According to the USDA, an organic cow needs only access to an organic pasture but there is no rule on how long it must graze and no limit on the size of a so-called "family farm."

Horizon Organic, the nation's largest organic dairy producer, has one farm with 4,000 cows. Critics complain that these huge herds spend most of their days in barns or feed lots, eating grain.

"We are on record with the USDA to pressure them to actually bring more clarity to regulations as it relates to pasture," said Jule Taylor, vice president of dairy operations at Horizon Organic.

"You would think that organic milk is grass-fed milk, but very often it is not. I think that's a problem. I think that represents a real betrayal of the original organic idea," said Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

But Hirshberg argues that any organic idea is better than none, and a mass demand for fresh-grown food could bring back the American farm, clean the chemicals out of the air and water and improve overall health.

"Organic isn't about producing food for the elite or for the rich," he said. "Organic is about changing the world."

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