USDA-certified organic California CAFO (Fagundes Brothers Dairy, certified by CCOF), target of a previous legal complaint filed by author 

Organics just received another black eye in “The Truth about Organic Milk,” an article recently published in The Atlantic (April 12, 2024). [Additional link to the article provided at the bottom of the page for folks who are not Atlantic subscribers.] It profiles Blake and Stephanie Alexandre, the owners of three CAFOs in Northern California accused of a number of different animal abuse and neglect charges.

I know this family well. Not only are they certified by the notorious CCOF, but Stephanie Alexandre, served on the certifier’s board (a conflict of interest prohibited by the National Organic Program) when they lobbied the USDA to allow hydroponics in organic production (which appears to be patently illegal, according to the law). CCOF certifies a number of “organic” livestock factories that I have previously filed legal complaints concerning.

The Alexandre farm is a member of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and a member of the phony-baloney OTA Dairy Council. (OTA has almost no farmers as members of the organization and most of the members of the Dairy Council are nominated by milk buyers such as Organic Valley, Horizon, Stonyfield, and their corporate parents.)

Long-time organic dairy producers, as well as Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) leadership, will remember that Blake Alexandre successfully talked everyone out of establishing a three-cow per acre pasture minimum (after we had come to consensus on the issue). 

As a result, there are some certified factory dairies with 5-10 cows per acre (in desert-like conditions). And if that’s not far-fetched enough, according to nutrient management plans filed with state regulatory bodies, some of those dairies are also cutting stored crops off the same “pasture.” The permitting documents don’t specify what percentage of annual growth is cut rather than grazed, but let’s pretend it’s 50%. That would be an effective stocking level of 10-20 cows per acre. 

The Alexandres were also startup investors in at least one of the giant organic dairy CAFOs in Texas (possibly the largest in the state). Cumulatively, the Texas “organic” mega dairies have cost hundreds of farm families around the country their livelihoods.

We’ve had reports of other improprieties on the three CAFOs they own but I’ve never been able to gather the requisite number of witnesses to file formal complaints with the USDA.The last straw for me was when the couple accepted the “Organic Farmer of the Year” award from the industry lobbyists at the Organic Trade Association — despite OTA having sided with Aurora and other factory dairies. By accepting the award, they became partners in the OTA’s greenwashing/propaganda. And I couldn’t talk them out of it.

The OTA does not represent the interests of dairy farmers. They represent the interests of corporate milk buyers.

That’s the last time I talked to the Alexandres.

I can’t vouch for the propriety of the research behind the story, and it seems to have been promulgated by individuals who are opposed to livestock agriculture. But at least one of their sources has reached out to me in the past with concerns about the dairy. It seems Blake and Stephanie had answers for every allegation (as they’ve had in the past). Even giving them the benefit of the doubt regarding the charges in the article, at a very minimum — given their status as organic industry barons, with a milk processing plant, national marketing and distribution, and three large dairies with scores of employees — it appears that they, quite frankly, just don’t have the management control to walk their talk.

Either way, this article and scandal have the potential to be damaging to honest, ethical organic farmers who respectfully care for their livestock.

Mark A Kastel, Executive Director, OrganicEye