During 2007, the growth in organic milk supply caused a surplus for the first time â largely due to factory farms like Auroraâs. The surplus is pushing down prices paid to legitimate and ethical organic family farmers.
âAnyone found to be committing willful violations of the regulations, anyone, should not remain certified,â stated Jim Riddle, former chairman of the National Organic Standards Board and an internationally recognized expert on organic certification. Family-scale farmers from all over the country have questioned on internet forums whether, had they been found to be in violation, they would have been allowed one year of supervision instead of being fined and having their organic certification revoked.
Aurora CEO Marc Peperzak has his own response: âAurora Organic Dairy has maintained continuous organic certifications for all of our farms and facilities. Our milk is and always has been organic.â Aurora representatives have indicated that the USDA mandated changes will cost his company $3.3 million.
Aurora may not yet be out of the woods. Seven class action lawsuits have been filed in U.S. federal courts against Aurora. The suits, brought on behalf of consumers in more than thirty states, charge Aurora with allegations of consumer fraud, negligence, and unjust enrichment. These suits are asking for millions of dollars in damages and could force changes in Auroraâs operations.
âWe believe that there are tens of thousands of consumers across the United States who have been directly impacted by Auroraâs practices,â said Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association. âWe will do what we can to ensure that organic continues to mean organic and that consumers get exactly that when they are paying for organic food.â
The decision by USDA to close the Horizon investigation could be attributed to the political might of corporate giant Dean Foods, the brandâs owner. The $10 billion corporation, controlling over 50 dairy brands around the country, is the dominant player in the nationâs fluid milk market and is well connected in D.C.
âIt must pay to have powerful friends in Washington,â said Dave Minar, an organic dairyman milking 150 cows near New Prague, Minnesota. âThe USDA has ignored well-documented concerns about the propriety of these factory farms for years. This places ethical families like mine at a distinct competitive disadvantage.â
Summarizing the alleged Horizon violations, Kastel, âWe know from our on-site visit to the Idaho facility that they had no functional pasture meeting legal requirements and were unable to graze their huge 8,000-head dairy herd in Idaho.â Cornucopia filed its legal complaint after being invited by corporate officials at Dean Foods to inspect the facility.
Despite the problems being uncovered at organic factory farms, Cornucopiaâs research reveals that 90% of all name-brand organic dairy products are produced with respect for both the letter and spirit of the organic law. A scorecard and analysis of the various organic brands can be found at the Cornucopoia webpage . This is a tool that many co-ops around the country have used when making their purchasing decisions.