USDA Organic Whey - Is it Organic Whey Protein?

USDA Organic Whey Protein Isolate

Certified Organic Whey Protein Isolate

We dedicate this article to supporting the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA). At AGN Roots, we import our diary into the USA from Ireland as part of the same fight the NODPA is leading daily against CAFOs and Washington D.C. Machine.

- Our Goals Remain the Same -

Our mission aligns with the NODPA on many fronts; family-owned dairies should serve their communities with regional (local) governance. We strive for less bureaucracy from federal agencies who enforce selectively and legislate loosely against the very pathos of organic & grass-fed natural law.

~ Adam S., Owner and Founder of AGN Roots

What is USDA Organic Whey Protein?

A consumer looking for clarity and credibility before blindly trusting any brand selling whey protein powder is a consumer we applaud and support.

This article focuses on the greenwashing frauds that comprise 99% of whey protein brands sourced from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO).

These brands continue to wave the false flag of unregulated "grass-fed" claims and hide in plain sight selling the perception and aspirations of what the "USDA Organic Certified" seal means when it's on a plastic tub of whey powder.

Learn More: What is a CAFO?

We consider the marketing promulged by whey protein brands that carry the USDA Seal as nothing more than "greenwashing," built on deceptive spin targeting consumers with affinity towards products that benefit more than themselves, in this case, the planet and animals living on it.

Before defending your current brand, let's remove anecdotal claims which represent every brand eager to have you invest in CAFO dairy.

  1. The Most Transparent Whey
  2. The Most Trustworthy Whey
  3. The Cleanest Whey

Meaningless labels have their place on the naughty list but are not the focus of this piece; instead, we are focusing on the real scammers actively taking the industry backward by using consumer goodwill to fund the ever-worsening epidemic of CAFOs.

Is USDA Organic Whey "Grass-Fed?"

The new meaning of the USDA Organic Seal on any whey protein package is a CAFO stamp of Origin. If you are unfamiliar with CAFOs or "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations," they represent the downfall of the small family-owned, authentic organic farmers.

Since the boom of CAFOs and the introduction of an oversupply of "organic milk," we have seen a rise in "USDA Certified Organic" whey protein powder hitting the sports nutrition market. The quality of this whey is similar to that of Native Whey; however, the costs are even more outrageous. So how did this happen?

There are roughly 3,000 USDA Certified Organic Dairy operations within the United States. The data below from a USDA NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) Survey tells a story worth noting about the rise of CAFOs and the pressure on family dairies consisting of less than 250 dairy cows. 

 State Number of Organic Certified Organic Cattle
California 50,136 Cows (Latest Census Data)
Wisconsin 27,980 (76 x more Organic Farms vs. Texas)
Texas 27,948 (Produced 1.3 x Vol milk vs. Wisconsin)
New York 26,246 Cows

 

The data above reflects the results of the vertically integrated in-house dairies such as Aurora (Walmart) and Danone (Horizon Organic) that have been able to go years producing milk at a fraction of the cost that family-owned farms endure. The cost advantage has been made possible ONLY with the help (blind eye) of the USDA NOP enforcement branch. As long as small herd farms have to endure the "Pasture Rule" in isolation, the days of high-quality grass-fed dairy in the United States are numbered.

Remember, the milk, albeit "USDA Organic" from these vertically integrated massive CAFOs, is "Ultra-Pasteurized," built for The reason is for extended shelf life and stability. We have written extensively about this in other articles, as this process sacrifices bioavailability and nutrients for efficiency and speed of production.

Why Does Pasteurization Matter?

The pasteurization method of a Danone or Aurora dairy is less critical because the milk isn't made from grass-fed cows. If the macronutrient concentration is non-existent, having a basis of design that exhausts more time to preserve nutrients is not feasible.

Learn More: What is Cold Processing?
Learn More: Pasteurization Methods Matter

The Best Organic Whey Isolate?

Is AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Organic? While this question is received weekly, it has never been the right question and highlights an abysmal level of awareness navigating the world of food labels.

The intent of the question isn't around the definition of "organic;" we all share a fundamental vision of what this adjective should mean. The intent of the question posed is more around "USDA Organic Certified."

AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey - USDA Organic Certified?

If you can buy USDA Organic Certified milk from CAFOs in an Arizona desert, please consider where USDA Organic Certified Whey originates, if not from worse places [8]. The point is that Whey Protein that is outrageously priced with the USDA Organic Seal front and center is a falsity, not what consumers think.

Lets discuss further.

Top 5 "Organic" Whey Protein Attractions

The Hartman Group Organic & Natural Report of 2016 states that consumers purchase "organic" food and beverages based on perceptions, in order of importance [4]:
  1. Avoidance of farm-level pesticides and chemicals;
  2. Organic foods are "safer for me";
  3. Avoidance of products that rely on growth hormones;
  4. Avoidance of products that rely on antibiotics; and
  5. Avoidance of genetically modified products.

According to the Organic & Beyond Reports from the Hartman Group, "organic" has gone mainstream.

So what has changed? The only noticeable change is the bar; as it gets lower and lower, more and more foods are now wielding the green logo "USDA Organic."

Below is a table based on USDA Consensus Data [National Agriculture Statistic Service (NASS) Organic Census]

 Year Organic Cows According to the USDA
2001 41,851 Organic Cows
2011 199,757 Organic Cows (Increase of 16k per year)
2015 241,112 Organic Cows (Increase of 10k per year)
2016 280,000 Organic Cows (Increase of 39k per year)

 

For a time, there were promises made by both political parties in the United States to fight back against the growing number of CAFOs responsible for producing now 99% of the milk sold in the United States. Some of the most massive dairies caught cheating were never even shut down. They survived their wrist slap of a fine and continue to produce low-quality, albeit USDA Organic Certified Milk under the Washington D.C. precedent of "Too Big to Fail."

As most politics go, once in power, disrupting such an influential business machine is not worth the battle. For now, consumer confidence still wavers as the USDA seal is becoming increasingly meaningless [4].

Is "Organic" Dairy Equivalent to "Grass-Fed" Dairy?  

Given the loose nature of the adjective "grass-fed" in the united states, as it relates to dairy, if a dairy cow eats a single blade of grass, the marketing behind that animal's milk is not false if such a claim describes the milk as "grassfed." The burden of quality assurance is on the consumer; although true, it's a reality and a sad one. Then again, if you are reading this, you are ahead of the herd

Most USDA Organic Certified Milk is Produced in CAFOs

We stated that headline correctly; by way of the USDA and the political rot within its governance paired with all the influence of big business and lobbyists, can we pretend to be shocked that there isn't much difference in how any faction of our government leadership.

The squeeze continues for the small faction of genuine organic dairy farmers before competing with factories now branded by the same level of certification by the USDA's unwillingness to enforce even their soft rules on the big business of CAFOs. Today's selective enforcement creates an indistinguishable market between small herd organic (< 100 animals) and dessert CAFOs ( > 15,000 animals).

While the intent of the USDA is broadcasted frequently and designed to appease the public, the evident ownership and what would be considered process integrity continues to rely solely on the honor system [5].

The USDA’s mandate to the mega business dairy owners of CAFOs is to take voluntary actions to minimize  -

  • Potential soil erosion
  • Water pollutants from storage facilities
  • Confinement areas 

The Natural Resources Conservation Service branch of the USDA is there to help landowners manage their voluntary actions via technology and, in some cases, financial support, but in the end, with no enforcement and audits routinely performed selectively.

This process leads to a massive gap during winter months (when animals are not in pasture naturally); CAFOs seamlessly undercut the market by producing high volumes of low-quality milk, all USDA Organic Certified.

What is USDA Organic Whey Protein?

Let's break down some key aspects -

This distinction between "Organic" and "USDA Organic Certified" is critical to understand to best address the ever-growing gap exacerbated by the inculcation of misinformation and perceived assurance.

AGN Roots is imported into the United States from Ireland. The term "organic" can mean many things depending on the origin of the individual asking the question.

If you have asked this question to our customer service stakeholders, they will most likely ask you -

What part of the "USDA Organic Whey Protein" interests you?

More than likely, this will result in a google search, which is the point.

The question provokes perspective, and the burden of imparting perspective is best kept on the asking party. The “USDA Organic” certification, compared to any reputable Grass-Fed Certifier related to dairy production, is a bit of a downgrade on all accounts.

What is the Pasture Rule?

There was a time when a "Pasture Rule" was the law of the land—known to dairy farmers as "Nature's Natural CONTROL" to ensure a balance between price and supply amongst U.S. dairy farmers. The below image outlines the main points, and in 2010, this rule was thought to close the gap on particular loopholes.

A market enforced with these rules would drastically increase the quality of dairy across the states while reducing the shear volume of "organic" milk supplies hitting the market.

Since the 1990s, when the federal government took over "organic" governance, the presumption that seems to be the main culprit of QA/QC issues now in 2022 remains to be equitable enforcement; the NOP & USDA choosing to look the other way when it comes to AFOs & CAFOs.

USDA Organic Certified Whey Protein - Pasture Rule

 

Is there an organic market if there is no enforcement? Non-compliant dairies are destroying the market, which is the case with every CAFO currently producing milk under the USDA Organic Certification.

What is the Origin of Live Stock Rule?

The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 allowed dairies to perform a one-time conversion from Conventional to Organic herds without losing long-term genetics & herd immunities.

After that one-time transition, everything else had to be bred either on the farm or assured organic from the last third gestation. The intent is to control these animals' origins so that "certified organic" is synonymous with "reared organically."

In the last ten years, however, drastic erosion of this rule took place; inconsistent, often corrupt, certifiers allowed the continuous transition of conventional animals into huge organic herds.

Despite the new ruling, as per the image below, rules are only effective when enforced, and the one piece that still resembles the wild wild west is consistency among the certifiers or the lack thereof.

If you recall, in 2016, the continuous free passes to transition as many cattle as possible culminated in a massive oversupply. The driver, of course, was big business; in the end, taking advantage of organic prices, albeit due to a legitimate demand surge, introduced a transition from conventional to organic herds leading to a 25-30% drop in organic milk prices.

Organic Valley and Horizon Organic 

The current OOL Final Rule as of March of this year (2022) 
USDA Certified Whey Protein - The USDA OOL Final Rule (Origin of Livestock)

 

 USDA Organic
Question
AGN Roots

The majority of USDA Organic Milk originates in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs  "Kay-Foes"). 

5,000 to 20,000 cows per farm that currently hold USDA Organic Certificates. 

Where does the milk originate?

There are no CAFOs or AFOs of any kind when it comes to sourcing AGN Roots.

 The maximum dairy cows per a single farm is 80.

§205.240 Pasture
120 Days per calendar year.
 *USDA Grass-Fed Organic Certified is < 150 days per year.
Organic Pasture Rule does not apply to CAFOs given selective enforcement.
What is the minimum requirement for time on pasture?
Minimum 250 days each calendar year.
Equitable Enforcement is in the form of a nationalized Bord Bia. Every Grass-fed operation is under the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Schemes (SDAS)
§205.237 Livestock Feed
Up to but not exceeding 70% of the animals feed can consist of dry matter including 100% Organic Feeds including - 
**Grains & Supplement Additives compliant with §205.603 are allowed.
CAFOs are defined by facilities where total vegetation, grasses, forage growth are not adequate to sustain the animals in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot or facility.
What are the diet requirements?
90% of diet must be from on pasture grazing (national  grass-fed standard).
Truly Grass-Fed averages > 95%. 
The nutritional requirements of grazing animals can be adequately met through grazing.
Remaining 5 % of diet is ensiled grass (silage, fermented grass with a wet dense nutritional middle). 
§205.239 Livestock Conditions
Animals can be confined "temporarily" as long as 30% of their dry matter intake is from on pasture grazing. Continuous confinement is prohibited for animals > 6 months old.
CAFOs are defined by animals in confinement more than 45 days.
What are the standards for confinement?
Animals are ONLY confined during their time in the milking parlor.
All animals must have continuous access to pasture and line of sight to one another.
§205.103 Record Keeping
Inhouse trailing 5-year record keeping to satisfy 3rd party audits.
There are > 30,000 USDA 5 years is the requirement
How far back to the records go back for traceability?
Entire Life Traceable
From birth to passing.
Each and every cow has a detailed record of life.
§205.236 Origin of Livestock
Some farms can transition animals from a non-organic space to “organic” at year number one of their certification.
Very large and vertically integrated dairies however such as Aurora (Walmart) are able to continuously transition into organic markets which creates a massive inequity in the organic market along with integrity concerns.
Can a non-organic animal transition to "organic"?
Animals are not able to be transferred in, as Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World is the ONLY "Entire Life on Pasture" certification.
§205.272 Split Operations
Non-organic operations can take place next to organic operations.
Split Operations - Same Farm with Organic + Non Organic Side?
Prohibited
Split Operations are not allowed as they incentivize untrustworthy practices. 

Research, Education, & Grants (No Mandates)

The 2008 Farm Bill established National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) as the USDA's response to changing times and landscapes, addressing 21st-century challenges such as food security, climate change, natural resource, and environmental sustainability.

Nationalized Sustainability Program?
Mandated & Enforced
The farms that supply AGN Roots are certified to the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS), which is part of Origin Green, Ireland’s national sustainability initiative under Bord Bia (Ireland's FDA equivalent).

Whey Protein made from USDA Organic milk in the United States is all Ultra-Pasteurized.

The CAFOs and likes of Aurora and Danone leverage a process called "Ultra Pasteurization" designed for stability for a shelf-life extension. There is a strong desire to have "organic" milk shipped long distances and to be warehoused for long periods for ultimate sale in massive accounts such as Walmart, Costco, Grocery Stores, etc.

How is the milk Pasteurized? Vat Pasteurization or High-Temp Short Time Pasteurization designed for Nutrient preservation. 
§ 205.603 Synthetic Substances
Allowed for use in organic livestock production.
Conventionally raised animals prior to transitioning are exposed to an arsenal of antibiotics, drugs, parasiticides, ionophores, and other growth promotors.
Antibiotics  prohibited in milk whether the origin is Organic or Conventional

Entire Life On Pasture Certified with zero transitioning whatsoever.

Any meds needed for emergency animal care are administered, and the animal is rotated out of the milking parlor until its body is clear of the medicine.

§205.237 Livestock Feed

Receipts are used to document how much was used to feed the Organic Animals.

No mention of grass-fed 

Only 100% organic grains are permitted.

Purchased Grain and Forage (TMR Feeds)

Prohibited

Grains, Corn, Soy Molasses and any purchased forages "organic" or not are not allowed.

Allowed - Too expensive for licensed vet, thus a "competent person" on the farm will play doctor.

Requiring all physical alterations to be conducted by a licensed veterinarian would result in significant expense and inconvenience to an organic livestock operator

Physical Alterations such as Tail Docking & Dehorning.

Tail Docking is Prohibited

Dehorning is Prohibited

(*Horns maybe tipped as long as the living tissue inside the horn is not altered / cut)

Spaying Heifers is Prohibited

 

References -   
[1] O'Callaghan, Tom F et al. “Effect of pasture versus indoor feeding systems on quality characteristics, nutritional composition, and sensory and volatile properties of full-fat Cheddar cheese.” Journal of dairy science vol. 100,8 (2017): 6053-6073. doi:10.3168/jds.2016-12508
[2] Goodman, Jim. “With the USDA's Blessing, Cafos Are Driving Organic Dairy Farmers out of Business.In These Times, 23 Feb. 2018, https://inthesetimes.com/article/organic-concentrated-animal-feeding-operations-dairy-usda-factory-farms
[3] Crawford, Elizabeth. “Hartman Group: Organic 'Is Still Meaningful, but ... Doesn't Symbolize Everything' Consumers Want.Foodnavigator, William Reed Ltd, 11 June 2020, https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2020/06/11/Hartman-Group-Organic-is-still-meaningful-but-doesn-t-symbolize-everything-consumers-want#
[4] Dennett, Carrie. “Organics: Organic Dairy Myths and Facts - Today's Dietitian Magazine.Today's Dietitian, Sept. 2017, https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0917p16.shtml
[5] Conservation Service, Natural Resource. “Natural Resources Conservation Service.NRCS - USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, 2020, https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/conservation-basics/natural-resource-concerns/animals
[6] Press, USDA. “USDA Publishes Origin of Livestock Final Rule for Organic Dairy.USDA Publishes Origin of Livestock Final Rule for Organic Dairy | Agricultural Marketing Service, Release No. 0069.22, 29 Mar. 2022, https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-release/usda-publishes-origin-livestock-final-rule-organic-dairy
[7] Lyubomirova, Teodora. “'Traumatic and Devastating': Organic Farmers Cope with Fallout from Danone Exit.” Dairyreporter.com, William Reed Ltd, 25 Aug. 2022, https://www.dairyreporter.com/Article/2022/08/25/Traumatic-and-devastating-Organic-farmers-cope-with-fallout-from-Danone-exit
[8] Michael, K. “Stop Cafo Protection Bill!Animal Defense League of Arizona, Animal Defense League, 6 Apr. 2021, https://adlaz.org/legislation/stopcafobill/
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