By CATHERINE TSAI | AP Business Writer
3:45 PM CDT, June 11, 2009
DENVER - A federal judge has dismissed consumer lawsuits alleging that milk Aurora Organic Dairy supplied to national retailers didn't meet standards for being labeled organic.
The Boulder, Colo.-based company argued that its milk never lost its organic certification.
U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber in St. Louis ruled last week that regardless of whether the dairy always met organic standards, a certification by U.S. Department of Agriculture agents allowed the dairy to market its milk as organic.
Webber also dismissed claims against Costco Wholesale Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Safeway Inc. and Wild Oats Markets Inc. The plaintiffs said those companies should have investigated whether the milk they were selling was truly organic. Organic milk typically sells for higher prices.
Lastly, Webber dismissed claims against QAI, a USDA certifying agent.
The lawsuits were filed after The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm-policy group, questioned whether Aurora Organic Dairy's milk was truly organic.
In 2007, the USDA announced that Aurora Organic Dairy agreed to changes at its facility in Platteville, Colo., in response to a notice alleging violations of National Organic Program rules. The changes included reducing its herd and providing its herd daily access to pasture during the growing season.
The company kept its organic certification.
Aurora Organic Dairy spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele said Thursday the ruling should end any questions about whether the company's products are organic.
"We are delighted with Judge Webber's decision and believe the court has correctly ruled in finding that the USDA and its certifying agents have the exclusive authority to implement organic regulations," she said.
Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute countered that judicial review of organic certifications is needed to make sure consumers are protected.