The nation’s largest organic dairy is in Aurora Colorado, but according to a recent Washington Post investigation, the company is not exactly “organic” after all.
Almost all of Aurora’s 15,000 or so cows have been kept in “dirt and manure-covered pens” instead of on pastures as organic regulations require according to a May 2017 investigation from The Washington Post, part of the reason why the Colorado Department of Agriculture filed a legal complaint against the company.
It’s “organic milk” is found under the labels of major store brands including Wal-Mart, Target and Costco.
But now some say the company has been let off the hook by regulators — and the circumstances of how it happened are rubbing many high profile supporters of organic food the wrong way.
“No Wonder They Didn’t Find Any Problems”
In response to the Post investigation and resulting legal complaint, USDA inspectors decided to visit Aurora to see whether the allegations of skirting organic standards were true.
But the company was given an advance warning days ahead of time, allowing it to pass the investigation and casting doubts in the minds of many as to whether their product are actually organic after all.
“How smart was it to tell Aurora, ‘Hey, we’re coming. Get your ducks in a row’? I don’t know that they have a clue what they’re doing,” asked Francis Thicke, a farmer, soil scientist and former member of the organic advisory board of the USDA, according to The Seattle Times.
Another former USDA official, Richard Mathews, said that the investigators did things the wrong way and should have showed up with a subpoena saying “give us your records,” instead of giving the company advanced warning.
Mathews investigated Aurora 10 years ago and cited the company for 14 “willful” violations, the article said.
There is a long pattern of violations that is clearly being ignored.
Charlotte Vallaeys, a senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports, said that unannounced inspections should be a “critical component” of a labeling program’s verification system; unfortunately they are not applied to suspected false organic companies like Aurora.
According to the original Post investigation, visits were made to the Aurora facility several times over eight days in 2016 and at no point were more than 10 percent of the operation’s dairy cows found grazing.
Milk from the farm was also tested and it was found to be far more similar to grain-fed dairy in composition as compared with grass fed.
The consumer, in this case people who buy organic milk from Target, Costco, or Wal-Mart — ends up getting the short end of the stick, along with the livestock who are forced to live unnatural lives in confined spaces without the required outdoor grazing time.
While buying organic milk, even from an alleged fake organic operation like Aurora, does come with benefits (including the ability to avoid GMOs and rBGH, Monsanto’s artificial bovine growth hormone), it still should be noted by consumers that they very likely are not getting a true organic product according to the original definition of the word, if the Post investigation is any indication.
And as has been feared all along by organic watchdog groups, the acceptance and deliberate covering up of such activities has led to an ongoing process of watering down the organic program over time.
For example, just this month the Trump administration officially declared that livestock raised organically need not be treated more humanely than conventionally raised animals.
If you value the traditional organic standards and care about animal welfare, you know what to do — take a long look at who you’re buying from (including Aurora and organic milk from any of these stores), and do your best to both know your farmer and vote with your dollars.
Thumbnail photo via Northwoods Savvy Shopper.