'Organic' Milk Supplier Settles Lawsuit
- Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Sometimes Christmas comes early.
Aurora Dairy, a company that supplies dairy products to large grocery chains, including Wal-Mart and Target, settled a class action lawsuit filed against them on behalf of consumers in over 30 states. The suit concerned the marketing claims of Aurora's organic milk. Aurora agreed to pay $7.5 million in damages and all settlement costs. The U.S. Federal Court for the Eastern District of Missouri will have to approve the settlement agreement.
In 2005, The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group, filed a legal complaint with the USDA which alleged that Aurora produced its milk on giant feedlots. The feedlots confined as many as 4,400 cows instead of allowing the cows to graze, as required by federal organic standards. Unfortunately, the first complaint was dismissed by Bush administration appointees at the USDA, and a second complaint was adjudicated by federal regulators who found that Aurora "willfully" violated regulations that required cattle to graze.
Consumers who purchased organic milk produced by Aurora will be able to receive $10 rebates without a receipt and up to $30 with receipts if the federal court approves the settlement agreements.
Aurora does not admit to defrauding consumers and claimed in a statement that although it was "confident it would prevail in trial on the remaining marketing claims, Aurora reached the settlement to avoid the cost and distraction of protracted litigation."
The settlement agreement, the statement noted, "contains no admission of wrongdoing by any of the parties."
The Organic Label Still Means Something
The reason this settlement is good news is that it signals to consumers that an organic seal means something. As Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, puts it, "This settlement proves our contention that there is a higher authority enforcing the organic standards in this country than the USDA." Or as Joan Levin, a Chicago organic food activist and retired attorney, said, "This is a big victory for organic consumers, and the farmers who respect the federal law."
The class action lawsuit itself shows that eating organic foods is important to consumers. So important, that if some consumers find out that the organic milk they bought is not actually organic, they will take legal action. That kind of commitment to eating organic foods sends a message to companies.
Photo Credit: dcysurfer/Dave Young