Aurora faces lawsuits concerning organic practices

by Staff
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ST. LOUIS — Class action lawsuits against Aurora Organic Dairy are being filed in U.S. federal courts in St. Louis and Denver, citing consumer fraud, negligence and unjust enrichment concerning the company’s sale of organic milk.

Law firms in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri already have filed one lawsuit in Missouri, with another suite is due to be filed in Denver.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service began investigating Aurora as a result of allegations that animals did not have enough pasture. In the process of investigating, the A.M.S. also found animals were transitioned improperly to organic and inadequate records had been kept.

The A.M.S. and Aurora entered into a consent agreement, and as a result, Aurora’s Platteville, Colo., facility must meet several conditions to continue to operate as a certified organic dairy.

The conditions include providing daily access to pasture during the growing season; reducing the number of cows to be consistent with the pasture available; eliminating cows that were not transitioned properly into an organic operation and not marketing these cows’ milk as organic; and agreeing to use a more rigorous transitioning process when animals are added to the herd.

The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group, also said the U.S.D.A. found from Dec. 5, 2003, to April 16, 2007, Aurora labeled and sold milk as organically produced when the milk was not produced and handled according to the U.S.D.A.’s National Organic Program regulations.

"We believe that there are tens of thousands of consumers across the United States who have been directly impacted by Aurora’s practices," said Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association. "We are pleased to see this legal action. We will do what we can to ensure that organic continues to mean organic."

Aurora said it will "defend itself vigorously" against the charges.

"There is absolutely no basis for claims we defrauded consumers by selling milk that isn’t organic — none whatsoever," said Marc Peperzak, Aurora chairman and chief executive officer. "Aurora Organic Diary has maintained continuous organic certifications for all our farms and facilities. Our milk is and always has been organic. Our U.S.D.A. consent agreement makes clear that all of our organic certifications are valid."

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