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A spanking on the dairy-ère

The largest organic dairy farm in America might not be organic.

An investigation by the Washington Post suggests that the High Plains operation in Colorado, run by Aurora Organic Dairy, hasn’t been putting its cows out to pasture as required under organic rules.

Reporters visited the farm numerous times and never found more than 10 percent of the herd out grazing. Most of the cows remained on feedlots.

The Post also tested samples of Aurora milk and found that it was more similar to milk from cows fed grain than those fed grass.

The Cornucopia Institute, which campaigns for more stringent organic standards, has been raising hell over Aurora for more than a decade. Cornucopia’s complaints led to a lawsuit — eventually settled out of court — and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After that investigation, Aurora in 2011 agreed to improve its practices. Perhaps that didn’t take.

So if organic integrity is a top priority for you, you might want to avoid organic house-brand milk from Walmart and Costco, which source from Aurora. But if climate change is a bigger priority, well, ironically, intensive dairies like Aurora might actually be better for the climate than smaller ones. The biggest factor in driving down emissions per gallon of milk seems to be the productivity of farms.