FAQs

Get the facts about AOD.

+ What makes milk organic?

Organic milk is produced in accordance with a comprehensive set of guidelines established by the USDA’s National Organic Program. Among other criteria, organic milk is produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or GMOs in the feed and pastures the cows eat. Organic rules require that dairy cows receive at least 30% of their dry matter intake (feed) from pasture during the grazing season, which cannot be less than 120 days. Organic dairy farmers cannot treat their cows with unapproved substances, such as synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics. Aurora Organic Dairy has produced certified organic milk since the early-1990s, and we have been committed to being a 100% organic producer and processor since 2003.

+ What is the requirement for grazing under the USDA’s Organic rule?

Organic milk is produced from cows that are fed a diet of certified organic feed, which includes pasture. Organic feed is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or GMOs. Organic rules require that dairy cows receive at least 30% of their dry matter intake (feed) from pasture during the grazing season, which cannot be less than 120 days. The grazing season varies from region to region, and may be non-continuous to allow for flexibility during the weather and climate realities of the season. Contrary to recent reports, the organic pasture standard does not require cows to be entirely grass-fed, nor does it require cows to be grazing continuously throughout the grazing season. In reality, cows are moved between pastures to ensure the pastures are producing the best nutrition for the animals. They are also brought into the barns for milking, for health checks and treatments, and to have shelter from the mid-day heat and sun. An organic system is a dynamic system, and producers are required to maintain comprehensive records to prove they meet the requirements of organic certification.

+ How do consumers know if Aurora Organic achieves the grazing standard?

Organic rules require that dairy cows receive at least 30% of their dry matter intake (feed) from pasture during the grazing season, which cannot be less than 120 days. The grazing season varies from region to region, and may be non-continuous to allow for flexibility during the weather and climate realities of the season. We have consistently met this standard since it was added to the organic regulations in 2010. Like every other organic producer, we are required to develop Organic Systems Plans for each of our dairy farms. Plans are reviewed and approved by USDA-accredited organic certifiers, and annual audits are conducted to verify our practices adhere to these plans. Aurora Organic Dairy’s organic systems plans include detailed information about our cows, our farms and our management practices. We are audited at least once a year by our organic certifier and this documentation provides the proof that we meet all of the organic requirements.

+ Who are the organic certifiers and how are they assigned to organic producers?

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) established national standards for the sale and labeling of organic products. Included in this law is a certification program through which producers of agricultural products may become certified to produce organic products. The OFPA also provides for the accreditation of certification agents, who inspect and audit producers and share this information with the USDA to achieve certification for thousands of organic products around the globe. The National Organic Program was established with this system of checks and balances, and every organic producer is required to hire and pay an independent USDA-accredited certifier to audit and inspect their farms to achieve organic certification.

+ Are organic dairy cows supposed to be grass-fed?

Organic dairy cows are required to be fed a diet of 100% organic certified feed, which includes a pasture component, but the cows are not required to solely eat grass or to live on pasture at all times. Organic rules require that dairy cows receive at least 30% of their dry matter intake (feed) from pasture during the grazing season, which cannot be less than 120 days. The grazing season varies from region to region, and may be non-continuous to allow for flexibility during the weather and climate realities of the season.

+ Are organic cows required to live on pasture at all times?

No, organic dairy cows are not expected to be solely ‘grass-fed’ or live on pasture at all times. Naturally, cows do not graze once grasses are dormant after the 1st frost. The organic rules also allow dairy animals, and the pastures themselves, to be protected from harm or damage resulting from weather events and seasonal extremes, such as summer heat. During these periods, which can be most of the year depending on regional climates, animals are to be provided housing with access to exercise, fresh air and sunshine. Organic rules require that dairy cows receive at least 30% of their dry matter intake (feed) from pasture during the grazing season, which cannot be less than 120 days. The grazing season varies from region to region, and may be non-continuous to allow for flexibility during the weather and climate realities of the season.

+ Is essential fatty acid (EFA) content a requirement for organic milk? What does EFA content in milk indicate?

No, EFA content is not a production or product requirement for milk certified under the USDA’s National Organic Program. EFA presence in milk may be affected by many factors, such as feed crops, feed supplements, the breed of animal, the type of pastures and the time of year. Therefore, EFA levels alone are not a reliable indicator of what is fed or a farmer’s practices.

+ Why has an activist criticized Aurora Organic?

An activist group who is opposed to scale in organic dairy production has criticized larger producers, including Aurora Organic Dairy. Their stated goal is to protect the economic interests of smaller organic farmers. A reduction in the number of properly certified organic dairy farms and the organic milk they produce, would ultimately result in higher pay prices for their stakeholders and higher retail prices to consumers of organic products.

+ The activist has stated Aurora Organic willfully violated organic standards 10 years ago. Is this true?

No. This false claim has been made by the activist in order to harm larger organic producers and improve the position for its stakeholders and our competitors. The activist filed a USDA complaint regarding an Aurora Organic farm in 2006, which the USDA investigated. The complaint was fully resolved in an Agreement with USDA in 2007 with no admissions of wrongdoing by Aurora Organic Dairy. There was never a hearing or other legal process that established any findings whatsoever, and the activist has repeatedly distorted the process and continues to spread this falsehood. Moreover, the activist has ignored that, since building our integrated supply chain in 2003, all Aurora Organic Dairy farms and facilities have maintained valid organic certifications without any suspensions or interruptions.

+ What class action lawsuits were filed and what was the result?

Following the 2007 Agreement with USDA, which resolved the activist’s complaint, the activist inspired a series of copy-cat class action lawsuits. The two claims were about improperly labeling our products as organic and false advertising on our packaging. The Federal District court dismissed the claims that Aurora Organic Dairy’s milk was not lawfully labelled organic, which dismissal was upheld on appeal. The district court also dismissed the false advertising claims, but the higher court remanded this claim back to the lower court. We settled the remaining advertising claim with no admission of wrong-doing in order to avoid the distraction and cost of a lengthy lawsuit.

+ Today there is an oversupply of organic milk. Why is this so and has it always been the case?

Production in the organic dairy industry is cyclical – like many other agricultural markets. Today’s oversupply is a direct result of an extended production shortage in recent years, during which prices increased significantly and attracted new producers. Many of these new producers may have transitioned to organic without a buyer, creating excess supply in the market. Through its vertically integrated model, Aurora Organic Dairy provides unique products that serve specific customers and needs. We do not build more supply than our customers need.

+ Are there benefits to the consumer from making organic milk in an integrated farm and processing model?

Aurora Organic Dairy’s cow-to-carton business model allows for unparalleled traceability and quality control at every step of the milk’s journey from feed-growing through bottling. Owning our own farms and milk bottling operation also ensures our products are made according to our high standards for animal welfare and corporate social responsibility. Finally, integration drives efficiency. By directly managing more steps in our process, we can deliver milk that is bottled more quickly and affordably to more retail outlets.

+ Are there benefits to the consumer from producing organic milk on larger farms?

Scale can make a real difference. First, a professional management team that maintains excellence in animal welfare, environmental impact and quality control would be difficult without a business that has scale. Also, larger organic farms need more organic acres and make a larger positive impact by converting acres from conventional to sustainable organic production. Lastly, our integration of farming and processing drives many quality benefits and efficiencies we offer to consumers. This dedicated supply chain would not be possible without the scale required to support it.

+ Is Store Brand organic milk any different than other brands?

Our retail customers demand exceptional quality and reliability, especially when consumers expect high-quality organic milk. They trust our integrated milk supply chain because they can see that their standards are applied to all production, under one roof, making quality easy to verify. We take our standards in animal welfare a step further through third-party certification by Validus Associates. When consumers buy our customers’ brand of organic milk, they simply get the best milk available — anywhere — at a better price.

+ Are Aurora Organic’s farms confinement dairies?

No. Confinement dairies continuously keep animals in a barn or other forms of housing year-round, for all phases of life; eating, milking, sleeping, breeding, maternity, etc. Each Aurora Organic Farm allows year-round outdoor access for all animals through loose, open housing and exercise yards that provide our dairy cows freedom of movement, and access to fresh air and sunshine. Our cows also graze on open pastures and receive at least 30% of their dry matter intake (feed) from grazing during the grazing season, which cannot be less than 120 days.

+ Has Aurora Organic helped develop new market demand for organic dairy?

For more than 10 years, Aurora Organic Dairy has helped expand consumption of organic dairy products and has stimulated additional outlets for organic milk producers. Since 2004, our dedication to retailer brand organic milk has expanded the outlets and product choices available to consumers nationwide. This has resulted in unprecedented retailer participation in the category and has triggered many additional private brand product lines in organic dairy. This trend helped maintain growth in the organic dairy category for more than ten years.

+ Why is animal health and welfare an important commitment to consumers?

Organic consumers care a great deal about the treatment of the animals used in food production and they expect organic farms to make animal welfare a priority. We also believe that caring for cows helps them to avoid injury, resist illness and produce the best quality milk. As such, we train all our farm employees on our animal welfare standards and set strict expectations that they treat animals humanely. We also design and maintain an environment that promotes herd safety and comfort. Third- party auditors inspect and certify all our dairy farms to ensure we live up to these ideals.

+ How many acres of pasture does Aurora Organic have and how much feed does this produce?

In total, our farms are surrounded by 12,000 acres of organic certified pastures. This land produces approximately 120 million lbs. of dry matter (feed) each grazing season.

+ Does Aurora Organic use any imported feed?

We source as much feed as we can from local and regional organic growers and support more than 100 independent farmers who grow organic feed for us. The vast majority of our organically certified feed – including organic grains, alfalfa and other forages – is grown in the United States. From time-to-time, we will consider imported sources when the quality of a given feed product provides an attractive option.

+ Why does Aurora Organic offer milk products with added DHA & EPA Omega 3’s?

Consumers who are interested in supplementing their diet with more Omega 3 fatty acids seek products containing added DHA and EPA Omega 3’s. We provide products with added DHA and EPA Omega 3s to meet consumer preferences. Our Omega 3 supplements are derived from organic-approved fish oil sources.

+ Is Fish Oil approved for use in Organic Milk?

In addition to prohibiting the use of antibiotics and synthetic hormones, pesticides and insecticides in the production of organic milk and other dairy products, the USDA’s National Organic Program regulations also clearly define what ingredients are allowed for use in certified organic products.
Fish oil is approved for use as an ingredient in certified organic products by the National Organic Program regulations. Aurora Organic Dairy uses this ingredient in select milk products in response to consumer demand for foods that help increase the DHA and EPA in their diets. The fish oil ingredient used in our products is cold-pressed and refined to remove the protein allergens present in fish. No solvents are used.