Retailers are target of organic milk lawsuit

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Minneapolis-based Target Corp. is among a group of grocers named in a lawsuit accused of falsely selling milk as “organic.” Target purchases its organic milk from the Aurora Organic Dairy of Colorado. Aurora first made headlines in 2006 when Wal-Mart, which is also named in the suit, began selling its organic milk under the Great Value label.

The Cornucopia Institute, a progressive farm-policy research group based in Wisconsin, called Aurora Farms “ethically challenged” in its ratings of organic dairies. Acting on allegations made by the Cornucopia Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigated Aurora Farms early this year and proposed that the dairy have its organic certification revoked because the company had committed 14 “willful violations” of organic standards. Most of the violations involved the lack of pasture space for the farm’s more than 4,000 cows. Aurora Farms has since agreed to reduce the number of animals and increase pasture space in order to return to compliance with organic standards and the USDA subsequently dropped its complaint.

Despite the premium paid for organic dairy products, consumer demand often exceeds supply. Added to the pressure of demand is the pressure to keep costs low. Marc Gunther reported for Fortune magazine that the Organic Valley cooperative stopped selling to Wal-Mart because the retailer pushed for lower prices.

Along with Target and Wal-Mart, others named in the lawsuit include Costco Wholesale Corp., Safeway Inc. and Wild Oats Markets Inc. Asking for customers’ money back, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees the suit was filed on behalf of people who bought the milk and seeks class-action status.

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