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Farmers Say Mega-Dairies Milk the Organic System

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Farmers Say Mega-Dairies Milk the Organic System

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Farmers Say Mega-Dairies Milk the Organic System

Farmers Say Mega-Dairies Milk the Organic System

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5389487/5389490" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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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. Jeff Brady, NPR hide caption

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Jeff Brady, NPR

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

Art Thicke shows this year’s heifers, born just a few weeks earlier. He’ll feed them organic grass and hay for two years before they start producing milk. Jeff Brady, NPR hide caption

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Jeff Brady, NPR

Art Thicke shows this year’s heifers, born just a few weeks earlier. He’ll feed them organic grass and hay for two years before they start producing milk.

Jeff Brady, NPR

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.