U.S Organic Dairy Politics by Bruce Scholten

U.S Organic Dairy Politics: Animals, Pasture, People and Agribusiness
January 13th, 2015

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan– a division of St. Martin’s Press (in the US)

A review by Jim Goodman

Bruce Scholten’s in-depth and thoughtful analysis of U.S. organic dairy politics begins with his own memories of growing up on a Washington State dairy farm. From what was common in his childhood, small dairy farms operated by multi-generational family labor, pasturing their cattle, building the soil and supporting local communities, Scholten shows the reader how things have changed over the past five decades.

Scholten exposes the system that has come to control and victimize the farmer (both conventional and organic), the animals, the environment and the consumer. Noting that “Get big or get out” — the exhortation of Earl Butz — set the stage for the shift of agriculture from small family dairy farms to “mega-dairies,” Scholten clearly explains how this shift was made using government policy, driven by corporations that have taken control of markets, of seeds and even of the simple ethical principles that had been a safeguard for the environment and the animals with whom we are so interdependent.

While many farmers saw organic farming as a way to get out of the increasingly industrialized and globalized food system, Scholten shows how current policy in Washington is allowing, if not encouraging, the “industrialization” of organic agriculture. A parallel system to conventional agriculture, with intentionally weak organic standards and lax government regulation, is the situation we as organic farmers and consumers face. But there is resistance and hope, as Scholten notes; there are individuals and populist advocacy groups fighting to maintain the integrity of organic while ensuring farmers a fair price and consumers an honest product. Perhaps most of all, there are still farm families who “call their animals by name and manage their farms like living organisms in rural communities.”