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Friday, December 21, 2007

Can you be big and organic?

A lawsuit has been brought against Aurora Organic Dairy, the supplier of Target's house brand "organic" milk. A few years back, Aurora was in violation of many of the USDA's precepts of being organic (such as not providing cows with pasture time) with the USDA noting that its production methods actually look an awful like traditional factory dairy.

The lawsuit has raised hackles among consumers of organic food - who want to be able to believe the label - and industrial food producers who want to be able to ride the rising tide of organic food sales - 21% growth in 2006, in an otherwise stagnant industry. Aurora has responded to the lawsuit:
"The suit against Target is the latest in a series of copycat lawsuits inspired by the false claims of activist groups engaged in a smear campaign against large-scale organic producers," Aurora spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele said in an emailed statement. (emphasis mine)
The quote above highlights the issue. What if food labeled organic isn't what consumers think it is?
The small dairy farms counter that when consumers buy milk labeled "organic," they picture it coming from small herds of cows that graze lazily on bucolic pastures.
The USDA has defined organic, and the size of the establishment isn't part of the definition. But when a producer must "emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations," it's a little hard to think of that being large-scale.

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