Aurora Dairy, a large organic farm operator with operations in Colorado and Texas, has agreed to pay plaintiffs $7.5 million to settle an almost five-year long consumer class action lawsuit involving fraudulent marketing claims concerning organic milk.
In 2007, a USDA Complaint by organic industry watchdog the Cornicopia Institute was adjudicated by federal regulators who found that Aurora was in violation of federal organic standards requiring pasture for their animals, and that it used non-organic subcontractors and brought conventional cows into their organic operations. Those findings resulted in the USDA and Aurora signing a consent agreement requiring the producer to adopt more stringent practices or risk losing its organic certification.
A consumer class-action complaint followed that same year which alleged that Aurora’s labeling, graphics and marketing claims — depicting cows happily grazing on lush pasture, and in some cases family farm scenes — were deceptive because, in reality, “the animals were living short, stressful lives being forced to produce copious quantities of milk in the kind of filthy industrial conditions that organic consumers thought they were avoiding.”
According to Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, “Aurora, and other giant factory farm operators … are … bringing so much organic milk into the marketplace that they have suppressed pricing for family-scale organic dairy producers forcing some out of business.” Kastel contends that “[o]rganic consumers do not just buy milk, they are buying the story behind the label.”
On the other hand, Aurora notes that its organic certifications were not challenged by the lawsuit at the end, and it admitted no wrongdoing but settled to avoid the cost and distraction of prolonged litigation. Please see its full press release here.
In addition to the financial terms, Aurora agreed to continue the following practices at its Platteville Dairy:
- Aurora will certify that all of the certified organic dairy animals at the Platteville Dairy that transitioned under the 80/20 rule have been retired and removed;
- All dairy animals incorporated into the Platteville Dairy organic milking herd shall be under continuous organic management from the last third of gestation;
- All dairy animals at the Platteville Dairy, whether lactating or dry, shall receive daily access to pasture for 120 days per year or as otherwise set forth in current or amended NOP regulations or USDA exceptions thereto;
- The lactating organic milking cows at the Platteville Dairy shall have access to pasture at a grazing density that does not exceed four animals per acre;
- The dry cows at the Platteville Dairy shall have access to pasture at a grazing density that does not exceed five animals per acre;
- The number of dairy animals at the Platteville Dairy shall be maintained in accordance with the pasture metric described above;
- The calves born to animals at the Platteville Dairy shall be permitted to remain at the operation until weaned and ready to be put on pasture, typically between 4 and 6 months of age; and
- Aurora’s Woodward facility located in Greeley, Colorado has been removed from the Platteville OSP and Aurora will not renew its use.
An independent “Monitor” would review Aurora’s compliance with these terms. The consolidated case is pending as In Re Aurora Dairy Corp. Organic Milk Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation (Case No. 08-md-01907) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).