(Beyond Pesticides, October 26, 2007) Aurora Organic Dairy, found earlier this year by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be in “willful” violation of organic standards, is once again the subject of claims made by the Cornucopia Institute. In its findings, USDA had announced that Aurora “labeled and represented milk as organically produced, when such milk was not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program [NOP] regulations.” As a result of this report, Cornucopia, whose research and original complaint initiated USDA’s investigation, has brought class action suits in Denver, St. Louis, and federal courts, which allege “consumer fraud, negligence, and unjust enrichment concerning the sale of organic milk by the company. “The basis of Cornucopia’s suit centers around milk sold before USDA’s organic certifier, Quality Assurance International (QAI), filed a notice of the violations found. Cornucopia’s Mark Kastel argued that the milk sold in the more than three years prior to QAI’s findings hurt smaller players in the organic industry, as well as consumers. “Aurora’s actions have injured the reputation of more than 1,500 legitimate organic dairy farmers who are faithfully following federal organic rules and regulations,” he said. “We cannot allow these families to be placed at a competitive disadvantage.”
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), while not part of Cornucopia’s lawsuit, has simultaneously called for a boycott of “the Shameless Seven.” These include Horizon and Aurora dairy products, five national “private label” brands supplied by Aurora, and two organic soy products, Silk and White Wave. OCA decried Aurora’s “greenwashing,” citing its “failing grade from the Cornucopia Institute’s survey of organic dairies for its practice of intensive confinement of dairy cows.”
As if this were not enough, Aurora’s Gill, Colorado operation is embroiled in controversy with its neighbors. Due to a “substantial fly problem” caused by its 4,500 cows’ manure being spread incorrectly over fields, the dairy’s special permit is up for review by the Board of Weld County Commissioners. Although the Board granted Aurora until August 2008 to solve the problem, failure to do so could result in the revocation of its operating permit. “I’m still in favor of immediate revocation,” said Commissioner Bill Jerke. “It’s pretty clear that they’ve burned some bridges with neighbors – they’re burning some bridges in this room today.” Neighboring farmer Wendy Rogers claims, “The dairy is too big to manage naturally.” Indeed, Aurora’s solution to the flies has been to hire a “world-class” entomologist and spray insecticides to kill flies. Rogers claims she has been made sick by the smell of the chemicals.
Aurora is no stranger to controversy these days, but these three current challenges present a wider look at the issues surrounding large-scale organic farming. In the debate between lowering the premium on organic products and their integrity, Aurora’s legal woes are poster children for the organic food movement’s growing identity crisis. To learn more about organic integrity and its future, click here.