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Aurora Organic Dairy Sued by Cornucopia Institute

USA Cornucopia Continues Defense of Integrity of the Organic Label

A major organic milk producer in the United States is facing lawsuits over concerns that it broke organic regulations while selling “organic” milk to such major retailers as Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway and Wild Oats (a retail chain now owned by Whole Foods). Much of the milk was sold under the stores’ own brand names.

According to The Cornucopia Institute, federal court filings and class action suits have been made against Aurora Organic Dairy, based in Boulder, Colorado.

“This is the largest scandal in the history of the organic industry,” said Mark Kastel, with the Wisconsin-based farm policy research and advocacy group. The institute’s investigation and formal legal complaint alerted United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigators to potential problems at the dairy firm.

USDA investigations found that Aurora, which has about $100 million in annual sales, had 14 wilful violations of federal organic rules, according to the institute. The institute reports that Aurora confined animals to feedlot pens and sheds instead of grazing the animals, contrary to federal organic rules.

Packaging for many of the store-brand products featured pasture scenes. “That’s not even close to the reality of where this milk was coming from,” said Steve Berman, a Seattle lawyer whose firm is among those suing.

The USDA has since dismissed these complaints, Aurora says in a release. The release reads that the USDA has “affirmed the validity of each of Aurora Organic Dairy’s current certifications under the National Organic Program.”

“I am personally committed to the principles and success of organic agriculture and to the conversion of land to organic practices,” said Aurora’s president and chief organic officer Mark Retzloff.

Consumers have been harmed, the Institute contends. “Aurora was taking advantage of the consumer’s good will in the marketplace toward organics, and the USDA has allowed this scofflaw-corporation to continue to operate,” Kastel said. Ultimately, such acts may backfire, as consumers begin to question firms’ claims of organic, healthy production methods.

The firm, though, says there is no question. “There is absolutely no basis for claims we defrauded consumers by selling milk that isn’t organic – none whatsoever,” said Marc Peperzak, Aurora Organic chairman and CEO.

“We’re confident in the outcome,” Peperzak said of the legal challenges, “and will defend our company, our products and our reputation against any and all false claims.”

Cornucopia emphasizes that, if Aurora did violate organic standards, the firm remains an exception to the rule. A scorecard available on its website rates the large majority of dairy producers favourably.

Photos of what Cornucopia says is Aurora’s factory-farm operation can be viewed through the group’s website.

The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog on the credibility of organic farming methods.

Based on information from the Cornucopia Institute, www.cornucopia.org.