(Beyond Pesticides, August 21, 2007) Last week, The Cornucopia Institute announced that Aurora Organic Dairy, one of the largest organic dairies in the United States, could soon lose its organic certification. Based on a private investigation as well as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) documents, Cornucopia claims the industry giant does not comply with organic regulations regarding pasture grazing and cattle procurement.
Aurora has 12,000 milking cows on five farms in Colorado and Texas. The company claims that the cows have access to 5,700 acres of organic pasture land across those farms, and that all cows graze for at least 120 days per year. Among the brands Aurora supplies organic dairy products for are Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, Wild Oats, Trader Joes, and other grocery chains.
According to Cornucopia’s senior farm policy analyst Mark Kastel, “After personally inspecting some of Aurora’s dairies in Texas and Colorado, we found 98 percent of their cattle in feedlots instead of grazing on pasture as the law requires.” While USDA’s investigation is ongoing, Cornucopia expects to hear of other missteps. “Our sources tell us that the USDA’s investigators found many other violations when conducting their probe of Aurora,” said Mr. Kastel.
Cornucopia’s original complaint with USDA was filed in 2005. Concerned at the length of time USDA has allowed the investigation, Cornucopia has filed a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) with USDA to ensure that Aurora is receiving no favoritism from the department. “We hope that the USDA will issue tough sanctions, if warranted,” said Mr. Kastel. “And we want the agency to know that the organic community is very closely monitoring this case.”
Aurora has responded to Cornucopia’s claims by defending its organic certification. In an email, it claimed, “We have been working cooperatively with the USDA for 18 months to resolve complaints made by Cornucopia Institute, and we are confident USDA will make a decision on the merits.”
The dairy’s statement closed by saying, “Aurora Organic Dairy is the only organic dairy to have the animal welfare standards and practices of all of its farms reviewed by the independent auditor, Validus Services, trained to international ISO [International Organization for Standardization] standards . . . Our retail customers and consumers have every reason to be confident in the quality and integrity of the organic milk and butter supplied by Aurora Organic Dairy.”
Regardless of the outcome of USDA’s investigation of Aurora Organic Dairy, the issue of organic integrity is critical to the industry’s success, as well as for consumer protection. For more information and articles on organic food, click here.