U.S. probe of organic milk company faulted

Milk from the Colorado dairy winds up in Walmart, Costco and Safeway stores across the country, and consumers pay roughly double the price because it is supposed to be “organic.”

Officials at the USDA received a detailed formal complaint this year regarding Aurora Organic Dairy, one of the nation’s largest producers of organic milk.

Milk from the Colorado dairy winds up in Walmart, Costco and Safeway stores across the country, and consumers pay roughly double the price because it is supposed to be “organic.” But according to the complaint, Aurora was not meeting organic standards.

Obliged to investigate, two officials flew out to Aurora in June and, by September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the dairy was in compliance with the rules.

“Aurora Organic Dairy is a 100 percent organic company,” Marc Peperzak, founder and CEO of the company, said after the USDA closed the investigation.

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But the USDA investigators who visited Aurora did not conduct a surprise inspection, although they were legally empowered to do so and the allegations warranted one, according to people familiar with organic-enforcement procedures who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Instead, USDA officials were in contact with Aurora officials and arranged the review days in advance. Moreover, while the USDA said records proved the dairy had been operating organically, officials have refused to release those records.

As the sales of organic products have reached more than $47 billion, the USDA’s failure to rigorously investigate complaints about companies that use the “USDA Organic” label has drawn growing criticism.

“No wonder the inspectors didn’t find any problems,” said Francis Thicke, a farmer, soil scientist and former member of the USDA’s organic advisory board. “How smart was it to tell Aurora, ‘Hey, we’re coming. Get your ducks in a row’? I…

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