The Washington Post investigates USDA Organic certified supplier of Costco and Walmart.
Just last year, the organic dairy industry raked in over $600 billion. As organic becomes the new American standard, many people overlook the implications of what can only be described as “mass production”. More than often, consumers will pay double for a gallon of milk with the USDA Organic certification. However, as it turns out, this is little more than a facade, and few farms actually uphold the lofty integrity associated with the organic label.
“About half of the organic milk sold in the U.S. is coming from very large factory farms that have no intention of living up to organic principles,” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit representing organic farmers
The Washington Post investigated the Colorado-based dairy giant, Aurora Organic Dairy, making eight separate visits to their ‘High Plains’ dairy complex over the course of several months. Aurora supplies Costco, Walmart and other major retailers with milk for their signature organic brands.
According to the USDA: “The organic cow cannot be given growth hormones or antibiotics, and its feed must be 100 percent organic…The animal grazes on organic pastures for the entire grazing season, which must be at least 120 days a year, and receives at least 30 percent of its nutrition from pasture during the grazing season.”
The High Plains farm houses over 15,000 cows. The Post took satellite photos of Aurora’s grazing fields and reported: “signs of grazing were sparse, at best”. In response, Aurora said The Post had recorded “anomalies”, going further to say “The requirements of the USDA National Organic Program allow for an extremely wide range of grazing practices that comply with the rule.”
Inspections of USDA Organic certified farms are performed by licensed third-party inspectors. They are usually arranged weeks in advance; unannounced visits only account for 5% of inspections. Compliance and enforcement at USDA Organic is performed by a team of nine people total.
The Post called upon Virginia Tech dairy science professor Benjamin Corl, who analyzed milk samples from eight different USDA Organic certified brands. Measures were taken for the levels of three substances, which can indicate the quality of diet. As expected, Aurora, along with Lucerne Family and 365 Everyday Value, showed results more consistent with non-organic cows.
These aren’t the first allegations to fall upon Aurora. In 2007, they were investigated by the USDA. Aurora was accused of “willful violations” of the organic regulations for dairy, including that they had “failed to provide a total feed ration that included pasture.” The USDA threatened to take away their organic certification, and Aurora agreed to make “major changes” and continues to operate to this day.
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