Business, Economics and Jobs

Organic milk companies battle in court


A statue depicting a dairy cow dressed in Chinese Qipao in Chongqing, China on December 2, 2008.


China Photos

Organic milk brings to mind images of tree-hugging dairy farmers, but a more accurate image might be ruthless businessmen and lawyers. Horizon Organics, the biggest supplier of organic milk in the US, has sued Organic Valley, a dairy farmer cooperative that is the second-biggest supplier, Bloomberg News reported.

Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, questions Horizon's motives. “Maybe one reason Horizon is being so aggressive is that organic milk is in short supply right now,” Kastel told Bloomberg. “Market share will be determined by who has the milk. Is this just a way for Horizon to intimidate the smaller company?” 

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Horizon Organics, owned by $13-billion dairy giant Dean Foods, has previously been accused of forcing many of its Horizon farmers out-of-business, while Organic Valley is known for treating its dairy farmers better, according to the Cornucopia Institute.

Horizon says it is suing Organic Valley to protect its trade secrets, after a former Horizon employee ditched the company to work for Organic Valley instead. Larry Hansen, responsible for milk procurement with Horizon Organics, quit his job in May 2012 and took a similar position with Organic Valley less than two weeks later. Horizon Organizes alleges a breach of contract and misuse of trade secrets in the lawsuit, the Cornucopia Institute said.

Its not the first time that Horizon has come under scrutiny. In 2006, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that Horizon may have kept its cows in a barn, which would violate a requirement that cows on organic farms have access to pasture.