The recent Washington Post article, “Review of big dairies raises doubts that some ‘organic’ milk is the real thing,” published in the May 2 Portland Press Herald, underscored one of the major enforcement challenges facing the organic dairy industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s administration of organic certification activities. It also created the impression that consumers cannot trust any organic dairy products, and that is unfortunate because it is untrue.

The Post reported that one large organic dairy producer in Colorado appears to be evading rules on the amount of time their dairy cows are grazing on pasture during the grazing season. The organic rules are clear on that issue, and Maine’s organic dairy farmers join with organic consumers in calling for strict enforcement.

It appears that lax enforcement, either by the USDA’s National Organic Program or the certification agency run by the Colorado Agriculture Department, is allowing the Colorado operation (Aurora Dairy) to remain certified despite the rule-bending. That must change.

Aurora is a massive operation, milking 15,000 cows. In contrast, roughly 6,000 cows provide all the organic milk produced in Maine. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Certification Services currently certifies 75 organic dairy farms, all in the small to mid-sized category and most milking in the neighborhood of 100 cows each. MOFGA annually inspects these farms and strictly verifies compliance with the pasture rules. Violations, if any, are reported to the National Organic Program.

As the Post article noted, small and mid-sized organic dairies are producing the highest-quality milk on the market. Consumers looking for guidance on how to respond to the Aurora Dairy situation can be assured that certified organic dairy products are a sound investment for their families, especially if they buy from Maine’s local and organic dairies or from the brands they have come to know and trust.

Chris Grigsby

director of certification services, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association