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Subject: wfan list> Enforcement Hammer Falls On Nation's Largest Organic
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
AUGUST 31, 2007
8:08 AM CONTACT: Cornucopia Institute
Mark Kastel, The Cornucopia Institute, 608-625-2042
Enforcement Hammer Falls On Nation's Largest Organic Factory Dairy
USDA Requires Aurora Organics to Reduce Dairy Herd Size and Remove Organic
Label from Some Milk
WISCONSIN - August 31 - The USDA issued an urgent news release Wednesday
evening announcing enforcement actions taken against the Aurora Organic
Dairy, based in Boulder, CO, the nation's largest organic factory-farm
operation. USDA's enforcement requirements for Aurora include "removing
certain animals from the organic herd and ceasing to apply the organic label
to certain milk."
The action is the result of an investigation triggered by formal legal
complaints filed in 2005 and 2006 with the USDA by The Cornucopia Institute
charging multiple violations of federal organic regulations. Cornucopia, a
Wisconsin-based farm policy group, made on-site visits to the dairy giant's
factory-farm operations in Colorado and Texas, gathering evidence supporting
"While we are pleased that widespread changes to Aurora's factory-farms have
been ordered, we don't think the USDA went far enough," said Mark Kastel,
Cornucopia's senior farm analyst. "We think Aurora should have been slapped
with a significant fine for deliberately abusing organic integrity and
consumer trust and for flooding the market with bogus organic milk."
This year the growth in the organic milk supply, due in great degree to
"factory-farms" bringing on production, is pushing down farm prices paid to
ethical organic family farmers. "These were not accidental violations at
Aurora-they were described by the USDA as 'willful'. They were premeditated
violations of the law by a multimillion dollar business enterprise, the
largest organic dairy producer in the United States," said Kastel. "Aurora
has competitively injured the nation's family-scale farmers"
Federal organic regulations state that "any operation that knowingly sells
or labels a product as organic, except in accordance with the Act, shall be
subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 per violation."
Aurora has been operating five factory-farms, housing thousands of animals
each in confinement conditions in Colorado and Texas. They package
private-label milk for store brands sold at several national chains,
including Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, Trader Joe's, and Safeway. They also
market dairy products under their own label, High Meadows.
Under the terms of USDA's consent agreement reached with Aurora, the federal
agency is allowing the company to continue to operate as a certified organic
dairy operation. But they have warned Aurora that they will be under
increased scrutiny and may have their organic certification pulled for their
dairy processing plant if they fail to follow through on the requirements
contained in the agreement.
Cornucopia's investigation of Aurora revealed, and the USDA confirmed, that:
Þ Aurora was confining thousands of animals in feed-lots, rather than
pasturing their animals as required by federal regulations.
Þ Aurora was bringing in conventional replacement animals to its organic
dairy herd-animals not qualified to produce organic milk and some from a
heifer ranch that lacked organic certification.
Þ Aurora purchased organic feed for their Texas operation from a friend of
the dairy manager who had sprayed his land with herbicides.
Þ Aurora was converting animals to its organic operation in violation of
allowed conversion practices (under the federal 80/20 conversion rule).
Þ And the most serious violation, selling, labeling and representing milk as
organically produced when it did not legally qualify - in "willful"
violation of the law.
Cornucopia's sources at the USDA indicate that the enforcement action had
been in the works for as long as 18 months and was the subject of political
maneuverings as Aurora sought to downplay and lessen the extent of its
"I think all the small family farms should get an 18 month exemption from
the rules like Aurora," observed, tongue-in-cheek, by organic dairy farmer
George Wright, of Herman, NY. "And how many years has Horizon had to get
their pasture structure going?" asked Wright, referring to another 8000-head
factory-dairy under USDA investigation stemming from a separate Cornucopia
legal complaint. Adds Wright: "I think they should all be shut down until
they can fully comply with all the rules just like the rest of us. This
would also help take care of the surplus of milk they created."
The USDA's enforcement order stipulates that Aurora's Platteville factory
1. Provide daily access to pasture during the growing season and not use the
cows lactation cycle as an excuse for confinement in the feedlot
2. Reduce the number of cows at the facility consistent with available
pasture and stocking densities
3. Remove cows from the herd that were improperly transitioned to organics
4. Use the more stringent National Organic Program regulations for bringing
new animals into the organic herd
Aurora also agreed not to renew the organic certification for its Woodward,
CO, facility. Additionally, Aurora agreed to enter into written agreements
with suppliers of animals for its Dublin, TX, facility that verify the
certification of those suppliers and the proper transitioning to the organic
status of those animals.
The Cornucopia Institute said that they were also investigating civil or
administrative actions against both of the certifiers that oversee Aurora's
operation, the State of Colorado and San Diego-based Quality Assurance
"Not only were they obviously not properly enforcing the National Organic
Standards, but they went out of their way to inappropriately partner with
and defend Aurora in the company's own news release downplaying the impact
of the USDA action," said The Cornucopia Institute's research director, Will
Fantle. "This subterfuge is inexcusable and potentially actionable."
Certifiers are required by law to maintain strict independence in their
relationship with the business entities they are supervising.
An impassioned Kastel added, "The premeditated actions by Aurora Organic
Dairy, and their efforts to deceive the public, constitute consumer fraud.
"We expect that responsible grocery chains that have been purchasing
Aurora's milk will now want to distance themselves from Aurora and procure
ethically produced organic milk from the nation's family farmers."
Cornucopia says that from an economic standpoint the defrocking of Aurora
dairy couldn't have happened at a more opportune time. "There's a surplus of
organic milk right now and retailers can find a substitute for Aurora's faux
organic milk," observed Kastel.
Officials at Aurora have indicated that the USDA mandated changes will cost
the company $3.3 million. The company has said they will downsize their herd
at the Platteville facility to 1250 milking cows (the herd numbered
4000-5000 cows when Cornucopia visited the site in 2005) and raze
three-quarters of the buildings and feedlots on the site so as to add more
of the required pasture for the milking herd.
Women, Food and Agriculture Network
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