cows in field

Animal Welfare: A Key Tenant of Organic Livestock Production

How do we improve our practices and make certified operations accountable?

On April 12, 2024, The Atlantic Magazine published a story The Truth About Organic Milk** by Annie Lowrey, about the Alexandre Family Farm LLC and its A2 regenerative organic farms in California More specifically, the piece heavily relied on a report from Farm Forward, ( ) which said that the Alexandre Family Farm engaged in systemic deception, cruelty and animal abuse.

Kathie Arnold, New York organic dairy farmer, NODPA founder and chair of the NODPA policy committee, committed in a statement on NODPA’s ODairy list serv, “The video by Farm Forward, at the end of the article, taken of scenes allegedly at the farm is devastating--so many scenes that should never happen on an organic dairy, or any conventional dairy, either. Yes, when a farm has livestock, there will be dead stock at times, but they should be dealt with rapidly and appropriately, which looks like it has not happened in many cases there.”

In a statement, the Alexandre Family Farm LLC said: “The allegations of systemic abuse on our farm are false. The truth is we have had a few isolated incidents happen in our years of organic farming. We do, however, accept responsibility for all animal treatment on our farm and sincerely apologize for the rare actions of some employees in the past who did not uphold our standards and for any animal suffering their actions caused. When we uncover problems, we take appropriate and immediate steps to improve protocols, increase employee training and provide whistleblower access to ensure all employees are following protocols for proper treatment.” They do blame bad actors and people they have done business with that have deliberately wanted to discredit them, which may have been the case considering their high profile locally, regionally and nationally.

As organic dairy producers, we do not vilify the practices of other dairies and do not endorse attacks on conventional dairies to protect or promote organic production methods. Blaming long hours of work or poorly trained employees is no excuse. If the operation is beyond the owner/corporate manager’s capacity and current management practices, it is the responsibility of the ‘responsible person’ (to use a legal term) to make changes, not to plead victimization. The quality of animal care is not dictated by size or production practices but by management, whether family or corporate. Every farm and farm family develops their own production methods and different uses of inputs to suit their goals, their land base, and economic sustainability. Dairy farmers have different beliefs and ideas around production methods and size of operation. All dairy producers are animal welfare certified, or organically certified, or certified through the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program which is required by all processors, milk handlers and milk buyers. All dairy farmers believe in strong standards of animal welfare and enforcement of those standards.

The Alexandre Family Farm, LLC, has a milk processing plant (Alexandre Family Creamery), national marketing, and distribution of their own label, 4,000 acres of irrigated pasture access, and four dairy farm parcels. In 2021, the family’s herd consisted of 4,500 lactating cows, 3,700 heifers, and about 2,000 calves, which are born each year (NODPA News March, 2021). CCOF records state that they certify 8,472.35 acres under the LLC. They have been featured in the NODPA News in March 2021, which can be found at: /n/5974/Regeneration-Alexandre-Family-Farm-The-Blake-and-Stephanie-Alexandre-Family-Crescent-City-California%C2%A0%C2%A0/n/5974/Regeneration-Alexandre-Family-Farm-The-Blake-and-Stephanie-Alexandre-Family-Crescent-City-California%20.

The Alexandre Family farm, LLC is not your typical organic dairy family farm and cultivates a very high public image based on their farming practices and the high quality of their milk, which is sold coast-to-coast. Organic certification requirements should be interpreted equally no matter what the size or financial balance sheet or the public profile of the operation. The responsibility lies with the certified entity to meet the regulations and with the certifier to ensure compliance. The USDA NOP does say that the certifiers’ inspections should be risk based. Given the size and complexity of their operations, this LLC would obviously be categorized as a higher risk and necessitate more time spent on the certification process.

All dairy operations rely on strong enforcement of Animal Welfare regulations. Organic dairy relies on the USDA organic seal of third-party certification to maintain their markets, which benefits all organic producers. Producers need to be able to rely on the integrity, knowledge, and skills of their certifiers to discover fraud or non-compliance with animal welfare requirements within organic regulation (and there are very many). There are many Animal Welfare certifications that lack the ability to enforce or validate their certification and leave producers paying for a piece of paper that means nothing, fraudulently undermining consumers trust.

The Alexandre’s have stated in their press releases that they would take direct action to correct the problems, ensure no recurrence and continue to monitor their practices. It is the responsibility of certifiers to take the same actions to discover what their systems are missing, perhaps working together with the Alexandre’s to get the best results that can better inform the process moving forward.

**This article may be behind a pay wall. If so, please click on the attached file (PDF) to read it.

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