Organic Principles, Regulations Ignored By Nation's Largest Organic Dairy

Consumers in twenty-seven states are suing Aurora Dairy, the nation’s largest organic dairy for selling milk that failed to meet basic organic standards. The suit is bolstered by findings from USDA inspectors, who found that between December 2003 and April 2007, Aurora: “labeled and represented milk as organically produced, when such milk was not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program regulations.”

Aurora’s Platteville farm contains 1,075 milking cows on 500 acres. While Aurora doesn’t have a specific percentage for how much of its cows’ diet comes from grass instead of feedlot grain, its goal is to have pasture comprise at least 30 percent during the typical May through September pasture season, said Clark Driftmier, Aurora’s vice president of marketing. Aurora milks its cows two or three times a day.

By comparison, Jim Greenberg’s central Wisconsin dairy is considered large for a family- run farm with 500 cows on 1,000 acres of pasture. His cows receive 70 percent of their diet from grass during grazing season, which typically lasts from the first of May to the first of November. He milks his cows twice a day, saying three times a day would move them off the pasture too much.

Aurora produces the same amount of milk as 300 average Midwestern dairy farms, said Greenberg, who employs five family members and eight others.

Since Aurora started, “I’ve heard more people voice skepticism about organic milk and how well the standards are enforced,” he said. “They say if it’s going on at such a large scale, people lose confidence whether it’s really organic.”

For Aurora’s Retzloff, that criticism over scale goes to the heart of the controversy, and he says the company doesn’t get any credit for the benefits its size can bring. He points to Aurora’s efforts to recycle the farm’s plant and water waste, use wind power at all of its farms and offices, and offer bilingual classes, health benefits and subsidized housing for farm workers.

Aurora supplies its milk to grocers like Walmart, Target, Costco, and Safeway, which then sell Aurora’s milk under their own organic labels. Lawyers representing the class have asked for an injunction banning further sales of Aurora milk until the dairy can prove that it complies with organic regulations.

Huge dairy doesn’t fit organic image [Rocky Mountain News]
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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  1. timmus says:

    Interesting link I ran across while Googling: Aurora Organic Factory Farm. Living here in Texas though, admittedly I’ve seen a lot worse out in the Panhandle area at some of the bottom-barrel feedlots.

  2. fishiftstick says:

    “They lied to me” isn’t enough for a lawsuit–to collect damages you have to prove you were harmed in some tangible way. I’d be curious to know in what way these people claim to have been harmed by Aurora’s actions.

  3. phrygian says:

    When Tom Thumb (Safeway) started carrying a store-brand organic milk, I researched it. Turns out that Aurora supplies not just the Safeway “O” Organics brand milk, but also other store-brand organic milks. When I looked into Aurora, I was appalled and immediately stopped buying “O” milk. Aurora may not use hormones or antibiotics, but their treatment of cows is disgusting.

  4. yasth says:

    @fishiftstick: Nope no direct harm is needed, the contract to buy was entered into under false premises caused by material misrepresentation.

    In other words, as the consumers would not otherwise buy the product without the false facts provided. Therefore they are entitled to to a best effort rescission at the least, which given the nature of the product will be substituted as damages in most cases (i.e. the court would grant a full/partial refund of the purchase price).

  5. bposert says:

    All of the large organic farms are like this – non-sustainable. Take a look at [cornucopia.org] for another example.