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)