A USDA investigation of Boulder-based Aurora Organic Dairy found no violations of USDA organic regulations, allowing the dairy to retain its certified organic status. Courtesy Aurora Organic Dairy.

USDA closes Aurora Organic Dairy investigation

BOULDER – The United States Department of Agriculture has closed an investigation into Aurora Organic Dairy and affirmed that the Boulder-based dairy is producing milk within existing organic product regulations.

The dairy was the subject of a complaint from Wisconsin-based organic watchdog organization The Cornucopia Institute and was also the subject of a Washington Post investigation earlier this year. Cornucopia alleged and the Post found in its investigation that the dairy was not grazing its herd in open pasture as required by the rules. The Post visited the site on multiple occasions earlier this year.

However, the UDSA disagreed. “We determined that Aurora’s livestock and pasture management practices comply with existing USDA organic regulations and NOP (National Organic Program) policies.” Betsy Rakola, the director of enforcement for the National Organic Program at USDA, wrote in a letter to Aurora that the case has been closed.

Cornucopia, which filed the original complaint May 3 of this year based upon the Post’s report, questioned the findings. It said in a press release that it would file under the Freedom of Information Act to determine if the USDA’s investigation was based on a surprise visit or an appointment.

The USDA said in its letter of notification to Cornucopia that the investigation included an on-site audit of the Colorado Department of Agriculture in June, interviews with CDA staff, an on-site audit of the Aurora facility and observations of the dairy operation. It also reviewed Aurora’s pasture records.

Specific attention was paid to grazing season and nongrazing season movement of the herd, which to meet organic requirements must have access to the outdoors all year, except in inclement weather. During grazing season, “all livestock must obtain a significant amount of their feed and nutrition from grazing on organic pasture with supplemental feeding not to exceed 70 percent of the quantity of feed.”

The investigation found no violations of USDA organic regulations and thus retained its certified organic status, the USDA said.

Marc Peperzak, CEO of the dairy, said, “The NOP confirmed what we have known all along: that Aurora Organic Dairy is a 100 percent organic company. Their investigation included a thorough review of our facilities, our grazing practices and the records we maintain to document compliance with the organic rule. We’ve confronted false criticism with facts by fully and transparently cooperating with this enforcement process, and this outcome clearly validates our organic certifications.”

In addressing the Post’s report, Aurora said that testing of milk for nutrient levels is not part of the organic standard under which it operates.

“It is unfortunate that some activists continue to perpetuate the misguided belief that only small dairy farms can be organic, when the organic rule, itself, is scale-neutral,” Peperzak said . “The truth is, our size makes a positive difference. Not only have we converted many thousands of pasture acres to organic agriculture, but we have supported the conversion of tens of thousands more acres for other organic feed crop producers. Our scale has also helped create markets for all organic milk producers,” Peperzak said in a prepared statement.

Aurora Organic Dairy is based in Boulder with organic farms in Colorado and Texas. Its organic dairy processing plant is at Platteville. The company is building a second milk plant in Columbia, Mo., and expects to begin operations there in early 2019.