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April 12, 2024

3 mins read

Dairy Humanewashing Part 1: Leading Certifications Failed to Prevent Deception

This week Farm Forward published a new investigation and report describing humanewashing and fraud by a leading certified organic, humane, and “regenerative” dairy, Alexandre Family Farm. Our report was covered in The Atlantic.

For several years, Farm Forward has been sounding the alarm about the meat and dairy industry’s growing attempts to humanewash—using deceptive imagery and marketing to mislead consumers by creating the false appearance of high standards for animal treatment. Key to this humanewashing are certifications that market humane treatment and sustainable farming practices.

Our report exposes hundreds of likely individual violations of the USDA Organic and Certified Humane programs by Alexandre dairy. The fact that Alexandre remains certified by these programs and others raises serious questions about whether those programs are able to ensure even basic levels of welfare for farmed animals.

Our investigation suggests that leading certifications are being used to prop up a fundamentally inhumane and unethical agricultural sector—the factory farm dairy industry. Our position is simple: if this is the best the “humane” dairy industry has to offer, it’s time to ditch dairy.

Certifications failed to take action when notified

The intention of certifications like USDA Organic, Certified Humane, and Regenerative Organic Certified is, fundamentally, to convince consumers that they can trust that a product meets their values. Most consumers don’t have access to the kind of information or expertise necessary to make informed judgements about the practices of any particular farm. Even people who shop at farmers markets, where they can talk to a farmer and learn more about their practices, can’t really know what’s happening on the farm 24/7.

One of the primary functions of a certification is to fill that information gap. The most basic contract that certifications are fulfilling is to ensure farms follow the standards of the program.

Farm Forward’s investigation finds evidence that USDA Organic and Certified Humane are not meeting that basic function of a certification. Whistleblowers reported to Farm Forward multiple issues with the certifying agencies, describing how auditors would call ahead of time to tell farm staff they were coming, giving them enough time to move sick or injured cows and hide evidence that they were violating standards. One whistleblower got the impression from more than one auditor that they were there more as a tourist to enjoy the farm tour than they were there to ensure the farms followed the program standards.

More troubling is the fact that whistleblowers notified staff of both USDA Organic and Certified Humane of ongoing problems at Alexandre to no avail. Farm Forward staff reviewed documents provided by whistleblowers that confirmed that as early as 2022, senior investigators at the National Organic Program were given video evidence that Alexandre was violating Organic standards. The NOP staff confirmed for the whistleblower that the conditions of many Alexandre cows were disturbing and that it was against Organic regulations to withhold medical treatment from sick animals. Months after the whistleblower first reported the issues to the NOP, the investigation was closed, and as far as Farm Forward is aware, no action was taken. Farm Forward confirmed that the same issues reported to NOP—sick and injured cows being withheld medical treatment—are ongoing and continue as recently as January of 2024.

Whistleblowers made similar complaints to Certified Humane staff and as far as we are aware, Certified Humane never conducted an investigation nor took action to correct the ongoing issues at Alexandre.

Even worse, there is reason to believe that Organic standards actually incentivize animal cruelty, which you can read about in the second article in this series.