Aurora Organic Dairy, a major organic-milk producer with two Texas farms, has agreed to settle a five-year-old consumer lawsuit over alleged deceptive-marketing claims for $7.5 million. The suit was filed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Aurora signed a 2007 consent agreement that required the producer to adopt more stringent practices or risk losing its organic certification. During a monitored, one-year probationary period, Aurora agreed to give its cows daily access to pastures but not to over-graze them. It also agreed to eliminate cows that had not been properly transitioned from conventional herds while implementing a more stringent transition process.
Organic industry watchdog groups, such as Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, criticized the Bush Administration for not extracting tough penalties from Aurora. But they applauded the class-action suit for proceeding against the company on behalf of organic food consumers. After Aurora fulfilled the terms of the probation period, the civil suit was allowed to proceed only on claims that Aurora and supermarket chains misled consumers. Chains cited by the suit included Target, Costco, Wal-Mart and Safeway. But Aurora defended the case alone and it paid the entire amount of the settlement.
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