Aurora Organic Dairy announced it has reached an agreement to settle all claims in the consolidated class action lawsuits pending before the U.S. Federal Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the district court confirmed that Aurora's milk was at all times properly labeled and sold as organic, and that Aurora's milk has been certified as organic by a USDA-accredited certifying agent since 2004. As such, the only remaining action in this lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2007, concerned marketing claims made by Aurora and its customers.
While the courts confirmed Aurora's organic certifications have always been valid and the Company is confident it would prevail in trial on the remaining marketing claims, Aurora reached the settlement to avoid the cost and distraction of protracted litigation. According to the agreement, the Company will pay a one-time amount of $7.5 million to cover all settlement class costs, including class claims, attorneys' fees for up to 60 or more plaintiffs' lawyers, and the costs of notice and administration. The Company also will continue for three years certain existing farming practices at its Platteville dairy. The settlement agreement, which is subject to court approval, dismisses all claims brought against Aurora and its retail customers, and contains no admission of wrongdoing by any of the parties.
"Since our inception in 2004, Aurora Organic Dairy's mission has been to provide American families with high-quality organic milk," said Marc Peperzak, founder and CEO of Aurora Organic Dairy. "Without exception, we have always produced organic dairy products without chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics and artificial growth hormones according to USDA organic standards. Aurora's products have been continuously certified as organic since 2004 with the USDA Organic Seal, the marketplace standard that American families rely on and trust."
To ensure the highest quality organic dairy products, Aurora follows a strict set of guidelines for organic livestock operations and management. In accordance with USDA organic regulations, Aurora cows receive a diet of organic-certified feed, including pasture, grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides, and other prohibited substances. With more than 8,200 acres of organic pastures for grazing, Aurora farms consist of free-stall barns, open housing and best-in-class milking parlors. Aurora processes its milk in its own state-of-the-art processing facility to ensure that organic standards are followed at each level of its sustainable-scale organic dairy, from the farm to the carton.
"As the market for organic products expands, more people want to know how their food is made," said Scott McGinty, president of Aurora Organic Dairy. "Our sustainable-scale, integrated organic dairy model assures retailers and consumers they have the very best organic milk in the marketplace. As a result, more families are able to access high-quality organic milk they can trust."
"From our milking facilities to our barns, we pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards for animal welfare, and I personally have worked to secure Aurora's position as a pioneer in the care and treatment of our animals," said Dr. Juan Velez, executive vice president of farm operations for Aurora Organic Dairy. "As organic farmers, we fundamentally understand that high-quality milk can only come from healthy cows, and we place extreme focus on science-based disease prevention and on keeping our cows healthy and stress-free."
Aurora's commitment to exacting animal welfare standards is evidenced by its continual certification from Validus, an independent third-party animal welfare auditor. With stringent standards for animal welfare accreditation, Validus' comprehensive audit system was developed by leading animal welfare experts, including; Dr. Jim Reynolds, Western University, CA; Dr. Dennis Armstrong, Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona; John Smith Ph.D., University of Arizona and Mike Gamroth, Oregon State University. In addition, the program is annually reviewed by world-renowned animal welfare expert, Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University.
Aurora is a pioneer in sustainable and organic dairy farming and, along with its feed suppliers, has supported the transition of more than 60,000 acres to organic farmland. Aurora makes continuous efforts to minimize energy consumption and promotes resource conservation to reduce its carbon footprint throughout the complete lifecycle of operations. It maintains partnerships with leading universities such as the University of Michigan to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of organic dairy farming.