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Farmers Say Mega-Dairies Milk the Organic System

At Art Thicke’s dairy farm near La Crescent, Minn., cows spend most of the year munching on grass from green fields.
Jeff Brady, NPR
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At Art Thicke’s dairy farm near La Crescent, Minn., cows spend most of the year munching on grass from green fields.

The organic food business has grown from a health-conscious movement to a multi-billion dollar business. Americans now spend $2 billion on organic milk alone.

For milk to be labeled organic, the USDA says that cows must be raised on pesticide-free feed, without hormones. But it doesn't regulate how much time the cows must spend out in pasture.

As organic mega-dairies with thousands of cows sprout up across the country, small-dairy farmers complain that some so-called "organic" cows don't get enough meadow time. They say the huge dairy operations are taking advantage of the system at the expense of the smaller farms that built the organic movement into a lucrative industry.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues, climate change and the mid-Atlantic region. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.