(Beyond Pesticides, September 7, 2007) The United States Department of Agriculture and Aurora Organic Dairy have reached an agreement stemming from complaints brought by the Cornucopia Institute. While Aurora called USDA’s decision a “dismissal”, the department did find that the dairy did not provide enough pasture for its milking cows and that not all cows could be proven to have been raised organically. As part of its agreement with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Aurora will thin its herd at its Platteville, Colorado dairy from 2,200 to 1,250 and increase its organic pasture from 325 acres to 400. Rather than alter operations at another Colorado facility, Aurora has agreed not to renew its organic certification there. USDA will also monitor the company more closely, and violations during its one-year probationary period could threaten Aurora’s organic certification.
“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.” Cornucopia was particularly critical of the positive spin put on the settlement in USDA’s decision and Aurora’s same-day press release. Specifically in answer to Aurora’s announcement that “the U.S. Department of Agriculture has dismissed the complaints against the company,” Cornucopia maintains that “the complaints were not dismissed.” In fact, Wednesday evening Cornucopia’s Mark Kastel received a call from a high-ranking USDA official to say that the Agency had specifically rushed their official news release on the events out to the public in an effort to dispel the misinformation caused by Aurora’s factually erroneous representations.” Cornucopia’s press release said that the group had hoped for a large fine for Aurora’s violations. Instead, the company has been given a chance to restore faith in their organic operations.
The adjustments required by USDA to Aurora’s Plattesville 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.
According to USDA, “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 met, then the agreement will be withdrawn, and AMS could revoke the organic certification for Aurora’s Platteville, Colo., plant.”