The fight over what can and cannot be considered "organic", and the extent of penalties for misuse of the label, is still playing out in the case regarding Aurora Organic dairy.
Aurora was recently cited by the USDA for improperly using the label organic to describe milk produced by cows that were not given adequate time on pasture and conventionally-bred cows illegally brought into organic herds. As part of the USDA ruling, Aurora was required to stop labeling some of its milk as organic and to make efforts to comply with the regulations or risk losing organic certification.
The violations by the Colorado-based dairy, which supplies much of the organic milk sold under private labels by companies like Safeway, Target, and Wild Oats, were discovered by watchdog group the Cornucopia Institute. For its part, Cornucupia is not satisfied by the USDA response to the discovery of these violations of organic standards. The advocacy group claims that Aurora "willfully" violated the rules, and the USDA also "willfully" failed to provide adequate oversight.
"At the invitation of the AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) it appears that the certifier, just like the giant corporate farming operation that was determined to have been defrauding consumers by selling milk labeled as organic illegally, received "sweetheart" deals from the USDA-being allowed to continue to operate and avoid fines," said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, in a statement.
However, according to a press release from Linhart Public Relations, an agency representing Aurora Organic, "Aurora Organic also has sent a letter to Cornucopia Institute, the Organic Consumers Association and the Center for Food Safety, demanding that they cease publication of false, disparaging statements about the company and its products. Statements by these groups have mischaracterized USDA's findings and its agreement with Aurora Organic, and the company believes the false statements have been made deliberately to injure Aurora Organic and its customers." The statement also suggested that the allegations against Aurora may be due mostly to the size and scale of their operation.
Aurora has also released its first Organic Stewardship Report, which is available at the company's website. The report, which will be updated at least annually, provides details about the number of cows and acres of pasture at each of the company's dairies, metrics of animal health, and various other measures of sustainability. The September 24th issue of Supermarket News published a letter from Marc Peperzak, the company's chairman and CEO, and Mark Retzloff, company president and chief organic officer, addressing these allegations and attempting to set the record straight.
Because this matter concerns significant issues relating to not only organic dairy farming, but how well organic standards can be applied to larger industrial farming operations, we can expect this debate to continue for some time.
Major 'Organic' Dairy Private Label Supplier, Aurora, Threatens to Sue Cornucopia, OCA, & Center for Food Safety for Exposing Their Blatant Violations of Organic Dairy Standards
Aurora Organic Fight with Cornucopia, Consumer Advocates Continues
By Holly Case
Natural Food Network, September 24, 2007
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