USDA closes investigation into a massive organic farm — but what did it check?

By Peter Whoriskey

Video drone footage over Aurora Organic Dairy in Greeley, Colo. last year indicated that the dairy was not allowing most of its herd to graze. (Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

The USDA has closed an investigation into Aurora Organic Dairy, a mega-dairy highlighted in a Post story earlier this year, finding no violations of organic standards.

But the agency did not say whether the investigation disproved the potential violations The Post uncovered last year, saying only that Aurora is currently operating in compliance with organic rules.

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

The closure of the case was blasted by the watchdog group that filed the official complaint. The Cornucopia Institute has long criticized the USDA for lax enforcement of organic standards.

“Federal regulators believe Aurora, and other large members of the industry lobby group Organic Trade Association, are ‘too big to fail,'” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, which filed the official complaint that set off the investigation after the Post report.

The Post reported in May that on repeated visits to the dairy last year, most of the cows were not grazing as required by organic rules. In addition, chemical analysis of the milk showed that it was more like conventional than other organic brands.

The Post also reported that inspectors who certify Aurora’s dairy as “USDA Organic” conducted their annual audit last year in November, well after grazing season — a breach of USDA inspection policy. As a result, those inspectors would not have seen whether the cows were grazing as required.

Officials from Aurora Organic Dairy, which has supplied organic milk for brands sold at …read more