I received the following information directly from The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based watchdog group I highly respect.
[Yesterday] at 7:20 p.m. EST, August 29, the USDA issued an emergency news release announcing that they had sent a Letter of Revocation to the Aurora Organic Dairy. In lieu of revoking Aurora’s organic certification, the Agency has instead entered into a consent agreement requiring the nation’s largest certified organic dairy to make substantial and wide-ranging changes to the livestock management practices at their operations in Texas and Colorado.
In other words, Aurora, which supplies private label milk to stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Target,
Trader Joe's, and Safeway, got caught bending and breaking the rules of USDA organic standards. If they don't make the necessary changes they just agreed to with the USDA, their certification will be yanked.
(Note: In addition to Aurora's private label products - you might also want to avoid Aurora's own label, High Meadows.)
UPDATE: Apparently Trader Joe's does NOT get their milk from Aurora. Phew!
Before I go on, I want to make the point that we really owe The Cornucopia Institute our thanks for the work they did in making this happen, and if you want to express your gratitude in the form of a donation, here's a link.
The major points Cornucopia brought up in their complaint against Aurora include:
- Aurora was not allowing their animals access to pasture
- Aurora brought in animals from a non-certified contract heifer ranch
- Aurora converted animals from conventional to organic production when the regulations (because of their initial 80/20 conversion) prohibited that.
- And Aurora purchased organic feed for their Texas operation from a friend of the dairy manager who had sprayed his crops with herbicides during transition.
According to the USDA, Aurora will now be closely monitored to ensure it meets the terms of the agreement. If they fail to meet those terms, then the USDA threatens to withdraw its agreement and maybe revoke the organic certification for Aurora's Platteville, CO plant. Also, Aurora will not renew its organic certification at its Woodword, CO plant.
Cornucopia commended the fantastic work done by the investigators, but noted that the political appointees at the USDA "have decided to let Aurora off somewhat easy in this matter."
After years of delay Aurora, having expanded to five industrial scale dairies in Colorado and Texas, is still being allowed to remain in business despite being found guilty of multiple violations of organic law. These were not accidental violations – they were willful and premeditated violations of the law by a multimillion dollar business enterprise, the largest organic dairy producer in the United States.
A few more notes by Cornucopia:
- While they've been allowed to remain in business, they were able to build market share and screw over "real" organic farmers by driving down prices.
- Also, Aurora is a (fraudulent) driving force behind a current surplus in the organic dairy market.
- Note that Aurora isn't paying any fines for their conduct and there is no talk whatsoever of forbidding them to remain in business. (Organic regulations stipulate that companies fraudulently selling products as organic must pay $10k per violation)
If you want more info - check out http://www.cornucopia.org - they'll keep the updates coming as they learn of them.