Thursday, April 14, 2011

ORGANIC MILK: Horizon Vs. Organic Valley

My mother-in-law is a very health-conscious person. Her home is always stocked with organic milk. The two brands she buys most regularly are Horizon and Organic Valley. These two brands also sit next to each other on the organic dairy shelf in my local grocery store. I decided that these would be great to compare, especially because, as I did the research, there were so many differences between the two brands I thought of as equal. Here's what I found:

  • Owned by Dean Foods, a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. (Includes brands like Meadow Gold, Land O'Lakes, and Silk.)
  • Uses no artificial growth hormones, no antibiotics* and no pesticides.
  • USDA Organic certified
  • Cornucopia Institute Score 0/5; Ethically Deficient**
  • Dairy cows get up to 4 months of pasture time each year
  • Average herd size on family farms within Horizon's system: 90
  • Average herd size on other farms within Horizon's system: 229-560
  • Horizon runs 11 corporate farms with cow herds of 1,000-2,000
  • Number of family farms: 507; Number of other farms: 91

Note 1: Horizon enhances their milk with DHA Omega-3, which is important for brain and retina health, especially in children. Their DHA Omega-3 is strictly plant-based, not fish-based, which makes their milk completely vegetarian and a sustainable source of DHA.

  • Farmer-owned co-op
  • Uses no artificial growth hormones, no antibiotics* and no pesticides.
  • USDA Organic certified and adherent to CROPP (see note 2), a program of strict, humane animal handling laws.
  • Does not use oxytocin (even though it is allowed by the National Organic Program)
  • Cornucopia Institute Score 4/5; Excellent**
  • Dairy cows get up to 7 months of pasture time each year
  • Average number of cows per acre: 3
  • Average herd size: 76
  • Percentage of family farms in Organic Valley system: 100%
Note 2: Organic Valley belongs to CROPP, a program which embraces stricter standards of animal care than the National Organic Program. Some of these stricter standards include:
  • consideration of cattle's social nature and making sure they are comfortable throughout their integration into new herds, breeding, day-to-day events, treatment of illness, etc.
  • giving the cows housing which is comfortable, spacious and which conforms to natural light cycles
  • providing the cows with fresh air, shade, and access to outdoors unless extreme weather would endanger the animals
  • special care in breeding to promote healthy herds.
  • strict rules about transporting cattle to provide for their health, comfort, and safety
  • limited or no use of electric shock devices in training
  • limited or no dehorning, and use of pain killers when dehorning is necessary
  • constant veterinary care and regular inspections to maintain all standards
To see all of CROPP's standards for treatment of animals click here.

*Both Horizon and Organic Valley use holistic or homeopathic remedies on their cattle unless the cows are not improving quickly. If their symptoms cannot be relieved by these natural methods, in order to decrease the cows' suffering, antibiotics will be used to restore health quickly. However, once an animal has received antibiotics they are taken out of the organic herd and used as a conventional dairy animal.

Despite this extreme reaction to the use of any antibiotics in the cattle, the main reason behind the "no antibiotics" movement is that most dairy farmers give all their cattle regular doses of antibiotics, "just in case". This is believed to be causing a huge amount of antibiotics-resistant bacteria in the animals and eventually/consequently in humans.

**The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit organization "seeking economic justice for the family-scale farming community," has published a number of reports to help consumers see the business behind the food, and the actual quality of what they are buying. Horizon and Organic Valley are both included in their "Organic Dairy Report and Scorecard".

In this report Horizon scored 0/5 and Organic Valley scored 4/5.

Horizon's "0" score was based on the fact that they declined multiple invitations to submit their information for the study, and, as Cornucopia says, the company's larger scale dairies: include cows which have been non-organic for the first year of their lives, do not give their cows adequate pasture time, and are not concerned with the health and longevity of their animals. Wikipedia also states that the Cornucopia institute filed a legal action against Dean Foods, the owner of Horizon, based on their use of the term "organic".

Horizon's Overall Rating: Ethically Deficient

Organic Valley's "4" score was based on their cows' exceptionally good health, longevity, and time allowed on pasture, among many other factors. It appeared that Organic Valley received a slightly lower score based on the fact that some of the cows they purchase are also not completely organic from birth.

Organic Valley's Overall Rating: Excellent


  1. Wow! There is so much good information here! THANKS!!! It's so nice to know there are companies out there that actually get it!

  2. Wow. Amazing what a little research can uncover

  3. I buy OV or Horizon but always try to get OV first because it tastes
    much better. It is my opinion because it tastes almost the same as the milk I drink at relatives mini-farm ( 1 cow) for personal use and keep
    cow pastured almost all the time. Thanks for the info and it is completly in sync with my observation for about 5 years using those products.

  4. I'm in the early stages of becoming an organic consumer, and I found this information exceptionally useful. Thank you!

  5. I was trying to find different between these product, seems like OV is better than Horizon. thanks for your help. I really appreciate.

  6. Its all pasteurized. Therefore its all cooked and killed. But RAW milk from local farms like our forefathers did for millions of years.

  7. Would love to see Trader Joe's Organic milk added to the comparison!!

  8. Do they use UHT (ultrahigh temperature) in processing or not?

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Yup Organic Valley for my family. horizon sounds like the corporate version of organic.

  11. Money trumps health and well being in corporate america. This is why we have GMO's, why we have pesticide laden plant foods, why we have meat products full of antibiotics.

  12. If anyone here actually believes that homeopathic remedies work, please just look up what homeopathy really is and how it started.

    1. I was diagnosed w crohn's disease and was cured by homeopathic remedies, after years of taking horrible drugs. I believe in them and I'm sorry that you don't... But you shouldn't be so closed minded about things. It's an amazing world that we live in, and sometimes less is more.

  13. Hi, very useful (thank you!), but could you tell us what the sources are for this data?

  14. Another thing not mentioned about Horizon's DHA is the method used in production which is hardly "oganic."

    Horizon's DHA is plant based, not animal based. The method of extraction for the plant-based DHA used HEXANE which is a known neurotoxin!

    Look it up!

  15. So interesting...will probably switch brands...have recently been buying the store brand of organic milk since it's less expensive....need to look at which farms supply that to the stores. seems like Trader Joe's has another brand..can't remeber the name..any stats on organic compared to almond milk as far as healthier?

  16. Thank You so much for this info! I have the same question someone asked above, anyone know about Trader Joe's organic milk?

  17. Organic Valley taste 100% better too. I always bought Horizon and one day the grocery store was out of it or I was at walmart and that's all they had or something so I purchased the Organic valley and I was so impressed the flavor was wonderful, thick, rich flavor and super good! Great write up!!

  18. My own subjective studies conclude that of the marketed brands it's Organic Valley for me, thanks.

  19. i was buying horizon but will not any longer. thanks for info.

  20. Thank you! I knew to stay away from Horizon, and only get Organic Valley, but I hadn't seen the data so clearly before. Thank you!
    ~Inspired Girl aka Barbara

  21. What happens to the cows after they stop producing milk? Are they slaughtered?