Organic Watchdog Group Takes on Aurora Organic Dairy, USDA


Photo credit: cookingupastory

Oh what a tangled web the organic industry can weave. Way back in 2005 and 2006, Wisconsin-based organic watchdog group, The Cornucopia Institute, filed complaints that the Platteville, Colo. farm owned by Aurora Organic Dairy, one of the largest organic milk and butter producers, confined thousands of organic cows in factory-like feedlots, instead of grazing them on pasture land as federal organic regulations require.

Then in August, the USDA announced that its investigators had found Aurora in "willful violation" of 14 provisions of the regulations of Organic Food Production Act, including failing to provide its herd with access to pasture, introducing conventional dairy cows into organic milk product too quickly, not keeping proper records about how its cows were raised, and buying non-organic bedding.The USDA dismissed complaints against the company, allowing it to keep its organic certification, after Aurora agreed to make adjustments to its farm plan and to reduce the size of its herd from about 2,200 to 1,200.

On Thursday, Cornucopia blasted the USDA for not penalizing Aurora even though its government regulators found that the dairy operator had perpetrated consumer fraud, stating that many in the organic industry are resentful of an alleged "sweetheart deal" between Aurora and the USDA.

"This giant agribusiness enterprise, with majority ownership by Charlesbank, the investment arm of the Harvard endowment fund, was found to have illegally confined their cattle to feedlots, depriving them of fresh air and healthy grazing conditions as required by law," said Mark A. Kastel, the institute's senior farm policy analyst, in a press release.

"Aurora was also found to have brought in conventional cattle to their operation instead of milking cows that had been managed organically for their entire lives," he added. "This corporation was out and out cheating."

Cornucopia also announced it was filing legal complaints against the two USDA-accredited certifiers associated with Aurora, currently the leading private-label organic milk processor supplying store brands for Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Wild Oats, Safeway, and other grocery chains. The complaint alleges that that the violations identified by the USDA at Aurora were overt and should have been uncovered by the certifiers, Quality Assurance International (QAI) and the state of Colorado's organic program, "if they had been fulfilling their oversight responsibilities." ::Common Dreams and ::Time