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Friday, August 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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PCC says Horizon milk will be pulled

Seattle Times business reporter

PCC Natural Markets will stop carrying milk products from the country's largest organic dairy company, Horizon Organic, next month because it doubts that the products meet organic standards.

PCC's biggest concern is that some cows are not receiving enough pasture time, "but there are a lot of other things that have been alleged that need to be investigated officially," said Goldie Caughlan, PCC's nutrition-education manager and a former member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic standards board.

Customers have complained as well, she said, expressing a lack of confidence in the brand.

The Seattle grocery chain's decision coincides with a complaint to the USDA filed against Horizon by the Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit group in Wisconsin. Cornucopia is calling for an investigation into Horizon's practices, which it says include little or no pasture time for some dairy cattle and the use of cows that were not raised organically.

Horizon, based in Colorado but owned by Dallas-based Dean Foods, says it meets all organic standards. It buys about 80 percent of its milk from family farms and runs two large farms itself.

On a 4,000-cow operation in Idaho and one with about 500 cows in Maryland, the company says, cows receive at least 120 days of active grazing time, the minimum recommended by the organic standards board but not required by the USDA.

Horizon raises its organic cows from birth in Maryland and beginning next month will do the same in Idaho, spokeswoman Molly Keveney said. Currently in Idaho, it buys cows and converts them through a 12-month organic process, which is in keeping with the USDA's organic standards process, Keveney said.

Cornucopia says that means the cows likely have antibiotics and other nonorganic substances in their systems, said Mark Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst for Cornucopia who has visited the Idaho farm.

"They're gaming the system," Kastel said.

PCC has similar concerns, and company officials met with Joseph Scalzo, the chief executive of the subsidiary that runs Horizon, about a month ago to try to resolve them. PCC officials were not persuaded.

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About a week ago, they decided to replace Horizon milk, butter, cheese and yogurt with products from Straus Family Creamery in California. PCC also carries Organic Valley dairy products.

The eight-store chain continues to carry other brands from Dean Foods, including Silk Soymilk.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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