Back in the early days of 2009, Dean Foods, the manufacturer of Silk soymilk, quietly changed the soybeans in Silk from organic to conventional without altering the product’s packaging and barcodes, perhaps hoping that consumers wouldn’t notice or care. Now, the Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit farm policy research group, has filed a formal legal complaint against Dean Foods/White Wave with the USDA’s National Organic Program.
The complaint cites the Organic Foods Production Act, which forbids the misrepresentation of products as organic to consumers, and asks the USDA to conduct a full investigation into Dean’s handling of Silk, which the company advertised as organic on its website long after switching its beans. If it’s found in violation of the OFPA, Dean could be fined and charged with other penalties.
The Cornucopia Institute also filed a complaint against Target in October, alleging that Target’s newspaper ads for Silk falsely advertised it as organic. According to the Business Journal, Cornucopia today received a letter from the USDA saying that Target had agreed to review its procedures, and that the case was closed.
Like many other organic food companies that have been swallowed whole by large corporations (see, for example, Odwalla, which is owned by Coca-Cola, and Muir Glen and Cascadian Farms, which are owned by General Mills), White Wave began its existence as a humble hippie business: It was founded in 1977 by Steve Demos, who had just returned from a three-year journey through India and East Asia and wanted to make tofu. It was Demos who, in 1996, brought soy milk into the mainstream by selling it in regular milk cartons.
Today, White Wave has more than 1,350 employees across the country and has helped to make Dean a $12 billion a year business. Its website is full of upstanding employee testimonials like, “Trying to do right by everyone is something that comes naturally to this company.” Naturally, maybe, but not, it seems, organically.