ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

A Few "Inconvenient Truths" about Aurora Organic

In a rebuttal to my Op-Ed in the Rocky Mountain News, Aurora Organic Dairy President Mark Retzloff would have us believe that he has the best interests of organic agriculture and consumers in mind.

He does not. 

This dispute started because organic dairy farmers around the nation were alarmed at Aurora's organic dairy practices. To be sure, these farmers were competing against Aurora, but they wanted that competition to occur on a level playing field.

Aurora had tilted the field in its own favor by skirting organic rules.

Aurora admitted it was confining its animals to feedlots (though saying it was still meeting the bare minimum requirement of "access to pasture"). Aurora was quite open about its policy, arguing in public statements that it did not believe pasture was beneficial to the health of its cows.

Retzloff says Aurora began to change its farm more than two years ago to increase pasture and that the USDA investigation, and subsequent threat to decertify Aurora, had nothing to do with it. Despite his protests, it's difficult to reach any other conclusion.

Aurora had taken a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and in 2003 transitioned it to organic production. It had no plans to drastically reduce the size of its animal herd, as it is doing now under continued treat of decertification.

According to a document by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Aurora's certifier:

AOD's 2003-04 and 2005 history sheets demonstrate that it planned to have two and a half times as much pasture available for grazing in 2005 as it had planned when initially certified for 2003-04. At the same time, the 2005 history sheet shows that AOD planned to double its herd size, resulting in a significantly lower cow-per-acre of pasture ratio. (Colorado Department of Agriculture, "Statement of Position," May 22, 2007, p. 25, emphasis added).

Had this dispute not occurred, Aurora's 5,000 cow operation would have been significantly larger.

As for "inconvenient truths," one subject Retzloff does not address was Aurora's reliance on improperly transitioned organic animals to produce milk on its facility. It agreed to stop selling milk from those animals in its consent decree with the USDA.

Based upon the way it transitioned the CAFO, Aurora was required to source cows that were organic from the last third of gestation – in other words, cows whose mothers had been organic from at least the last trimester of pregnancy.

It did not. It sourced conventional cows, which are given the usual regime of antibiotics, medicines and conventional feed, thereby cutting its costs. These cows were then transitioned to organic production over a one-year period.

Again, it broke the rules to gain a competitive advantage not available to those farmers following the regulations.

I applaud the conversion of more land to organic agriculture, nor do I think that organic products should be priced at a predetermined point. What I do object to is cutting corners in organic methods to reach "affordability" – and that is what Aurora was doing.

They did so to build sales and raise profits, competing unfairly not only with many other small family farmers but other large-scale farms that are following regulations. This not only undermines the market, it defrauds consumers. The USDA was right to demand an end to it.

- Samuel Fromartz