USDA puts Aurora “Organic” Dairy back in business
October 8, 2007
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any hotter (or any more mind-boggling), the “organic” dairy factory farm controversy reached a new level of intensity over the past week. The USDA announced, to the disappointment of the organic community, that they were not going to take further disciplinary measures against Aurora Organic Dairy, a company that just a few weeks ago had a portion of its organic certification suspended by the USDA for “willfully” violating National Organic Standards since 2003 by failing to pasture its animals and by bringing conventional calves onto its feedlots and then declaring them organic. But caving in to pressure from Aurora and other big corporate players in the organic sector, the USDA now says the #1 organic private label dairy processor in the U.S. can continue selling milk produced on its factory farms as “organic” to its longstanding customers including Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, and Woodstock Farms.
In a mind-twisting manipulation of logic, the new acting Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Connors, a notorious cheerleader for biotech and corporate agribusiness, announced last week that this issue, regarding Aurora’s violation of the USDA National Organic Standards, falls outside the scope of the USDA National Organic Standards. “I know there is controversy out there on a number of issues that really fall outside the bounds, if you will, of what constitutes that organic standard that is necessary in order for the product to have our seal,” said Connors.
Now that they have the USDA in their pocket, Aurora is threatening to sue the Organic Consumers Association and Cornucopia Institute for educating and mobilizing consumers to oppose Aurora’s blatant violations of organic integrity. In related news, the recent issue of Fortune Magazine reports Aurora’s factory farms generated a record 100 million dollars in “organic” dairy sales to consumers this year. In other words, when it comes to suing the OCA, Aurora has plenty of money, from selling its cheap “organic” factory farm milk to Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and Safeway.
Release No. 0228.07
Billy Cox (202) 720-8998
Angela Harless (202) 720-4623
AURORA ORGANIC DAIRY SIGNS CONSENT AGREEMENT WITH USDA’s AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE
WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2007 – The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has entered into a consent agreement with Aurora Organic Dairy (Aurora) in response to a Notice of Proposed Revocation issued earlier this year alleging violations of National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. Under the consent agreement, Aurora’s Platteville, Colo., facility must meet several conditions in order to continue to operate as a certified organic dairy operation. These conditions include removing certain animals from the organic herd and ceasing to apply the organic label to certain milk. Additionally, AMS will exercise increased scrutiny over Aurora’s operations during a one-year probationary review period. If Aurora does not abide by the agreement during that time, AMS may withdraw from the agreement and could revoke the organic certification for Aurora’s Platteville, Colo., plant.
“The organic industry is booming and the National Organic Program is a high priority for USDA,” said Bruce I. Knight, under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, “and through this consent agreement consumers can be assured that milk labeled as organic in the supermarket is indeed organic.”
Under terms of the consent agreement Aurora also must file new organic systems plans for its Platteville, Colo., and Dublin, TX, facilities. These new plans will address all of the inconsistencies between its operations and the NOP regulations identified in the Notice of Proposed Revocation.
Major adjustments required at Aurora’s Platteville, Colo., facility include:
1) providing daily access to pasture during the growing season, acknowledging that lactation is not a reason to deny access to pasture;
2) reducing the number of cows to a level consistent with available pasture with agreed maximum stocking densities;
3) eliminating improperly transitioned cows from its herd and not marketing those cows’ milk as organic; and
4) agreeing to use the more stringent transition process in the NOP regulations for animals added to its dairy herd.
Aurora also agreed not to renew the organic certification for its Woodward, Colo., facility. Additionally, Aurora agreed to enter into written agreements with suppliers of animals for its Dublin, Texas facility that verify the certification of those suppliers and the proper transitioning to the organic status of those animals.
AMS initiated its investigation of Aurora based upon a complaint alleging insufficient pasture for its animals. In investigating this complaint, AMS investigators also uncovered the improper transitioning of animals and a failure to maintain adequate records .
Aurora’s Platteville, Colo. and Dublin, Texas plants will be closely monitored for compliance with the provisions of the agreement. If AMS finds the terms of the consent agreement are not being met, then the agreement will be withdrawn and AMS could revoke the organic certification for Aurora’s Platteville, Colo., plant.
As a result of the investigation, Aurora’s certifying agent, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), agreed earlier this year to make several changes in its operation, including attending increased NOP training and hiring additional personnel.
Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990. The OFPA required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that agricultural products marketed as organic meet consistent, uniform standards. The OFPA and the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations require that agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms or handling operations certified by a State or private entity that has been accredited by USDA.
The NOP is a marketing program housed within the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Neither the OFPA nor the NOP regulations address food safety or nutrition. Additional information about this program is available on the National Organic Program Web site at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop .