Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2000

CORNUCOPIA, WISCONSIN: The Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal legal complaint with the USDA requesting a full investigation into allegations of multiple violations of federal organic regulations at the Aurora Organic Dairy, located near Dublin, Texas. With a herd of 3000—5000 animals, the Aurora facility, one of the largest organic livestock operations in the country, appears to have violated numerous organic regulations governing the management of its livestock at the factory-farm operation.

“We have filed this complaint following our visit to Aurora’s Dublin, Texas, operation,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin-based Institute. “From our onsite review and interviews with several parties intimately familiar with this operation, it appears that the Aurora factory farm is keeping their milk herd confined, not providing meaningful access to pasture for grazing, and might have fed their dairy cows rations treated with prohibited pesticides and herbicides,” Kastel said.

Federal organic regulations require access to pasture for grazing, animal health, and environmental management purposes. The same regulations also stipulate that feed for organic dairy cows must be 100% certified organic and produced from fields that have not had any prohibited substances (pesticides fungicides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizer) applied to them for at least three years.

“This is extremely troubling,” Kastel added. “Aurora’s Colorado organic factory dairy is already under the microscope from an ongoing USDA investigation into its livestock management practices, also for allegedly maintaining feedlot conditions and receiving hundreds of conventional animals from a livestock supplier, under contract, that apparently was never even certified as an organic operation,” explained Kastel. “We are now discovering further potential irregularities by a company that seems to have a habit of cutting corners in their pursuit of organic food profits.”

Cornucopia has asked the USDA’s Office of Compliance to investigate Aurora’s Texas dairy. The complaint notes that not a single animal from the operation’s thousands of milk cows was out on pasture the day of their visit, nor was their any direct physical evidence the factory-farm’s pasture land had been grazed at all during the growing season. The complaint also quotes from a letter of noncompliance from Aurora’s organic certifier, Quality Assurance International, challenging Aurora to explain how the facility’s management meets the USDA’s pasture requirement for organic dairying.

None of Aurora’s thousands of cows in the milking herd appear to be doing much grazing in pasture this growing season at Aurora’s Texas factory-farm. More photos can be found under the photo gallery link.

“The nutritional integrity of organic dairy products is based on regular access to pasture,” said Peter Hardin, publisher of The Milkweed, a national dairy marketing report. “Factory farms, milking three times a day or more, simply aren’t able to logistically handle thousands of milk cows and provide them with legitimate periods of time on pasture.”

Aurora’s organic operations specialize in processing and packaging “private-label” milk for the nation’s grocery chains, including Safeway, Wild Oats, Target, and Costco. The company has also developed its own line of organic dairy products under the “High Meadows” brand name.

“If these large dairies, like Aurora, are not brought under control in the near future, with organic consumers already questioning the integrity of organic milk, they are going to ruin this for everybody,” stated George Wright, a long-time organic dairyman from Hermon, New York. “Shipping in their factory-farm milk from Texas and Colorado places me, as an ethical producer, at a competitive disadvantage.”

According to polling, commissioned by that USDA, organic consumers are very interested in eating healthful food produced with sustainable farming and humane animal husbandry practices. In April, The Cornucopia Institute released a report, Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk, and a national scorecard for consumers (click here to see) to help them identify the majority of dairy brands produced with the highest organic integrity.

One of the prime feed suppliers to Aurora’s farm was fined last year, by the Texas Department of Agriculture, for applying highly toxic, restricted-use farm chemicals on his land without being licensed. Interviews indicated that “organic” fields on this farm might have been sprayed with chemicals in violation of USDA organic regulations. “Serious questions have arisen as to whether Aurora is doing the required due-diligence to assure that their milk is truly organic,” said Kastel.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Photos of Aurora’s factory dairies in Colorado and Texas can be found on the Cornucopia Web page at (click on photo galleries). These higher resolution images along with a head shot of Mr. Kastel or a high-resolution file of the Cornucopia logo are available upon request. A copy of the complaint itself is posted on the Cornucopia Web site.

MORE: “Instead of strictly adhering to organic regulations, and joining with other organic dairy farmers in encouraging the USDA to close the loopholes being exploited by a handful of factory farms, Aurora just announced that they had hired a private corporation to certify their livestock practices as ‘humane,'” said Kastel, who is Cornucopia’s Codirector. “Why didn’t they choose from established oversight programs, and labels from one of the nonprofit animal welfare groups? Some of these large corporate farmers appear to have more experience in marketing and public relations than they do in caring for their animals.”

    The Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.

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