From: , Organic Consumers Association, More from this Affiliate
Published June 16, 2008 10:04 AM

Aurora's Heifer Supplier, 'Promiseland', Busted by the USDA

The National Organic Program (NOP) of the US Department of Agriculture said today that Promiseland Livestock, L.L.C., could have its organic certification suspended for two years.

In a formal administrative complaint, Promiseland, a Falcon, Missouri crops and livestock producer (which sold Aurora Organic Dairy more than 13,000 cattle between 2004 and 2006) was charged by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) with "willful violation" of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and with failure to provide access to records regarding its operations. The complaint was filed last week with the agency's Office of Administrative Law Judges against Promiseland Livestock, L.L.C. and the company's owner and manager, Anthony J. Zeman.

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In 2005 and early 2006, Promiseland's accredited certification agency (ACA), Quality Assurance International (QAI), "repeatedly notified" the company that its record-keeping not in compliance with NOP regulations.

According to USDA/AMS, Promiseland took steps in June 2006 to remove QAI and obtain a new ACA, and then obtained certification, valid between August 2006 and November 2007, from Indiana Certified Organic (ICO) for "12,000 dairy heifers and 10,000 slaughter cattle". At the time, Promiseland was also certified by ICO for "2,500 acres corn, 2,500 acres soybeans, 1,500 acres sunflowers and 7,500 acres grass/alfalfa."

An AMS official contacted Zeman in January 2007 and asked for records relating to animals sold by the company to Aurora Dairy Corporation of Boulder, Colorado (doing business as Aurora Organic Dairy). The company failed to comply, the agency said.

Aurora is the nation's largest producer of private label "organic" milk. In 2007, the dairy agreed to change some of its practices after more than a dozen violations of organic standards were found by USDA.

One of those violations, according to AMS, was purchasing animals that had been "converted from conventional to organic milk production, and thus had not been under continuous organic management from at least the last third of gestation", as required by organic standards, from Promiseland. Another "willful violation" charge involves the delivery of dairy animals to a non-certified livestock operation (Wells Ranch), for livestock management, prior to delivery at AOD's organic dairy production facility at Platteville, Colorado.

Aurora maintains valid organic certificates, having negotiated a "consent agreement" with USDA. The company is currently the target of a consolidated class-action lawsuit by consumer groups, including the Organic Consumers Association, and individuals which alleges that the company defrauded the public by selling products that were not in fact "organic" according to USDA standards.

In June 2007, Promiseland rebuffed another request from an AMS official for access to organic production records. Subsequently, the NOP Program Manager proposed revocation of all Promiseland's organic certifications of crops and livestock, for its failure to provide records. In October, Promiseland was denied an appeal, but got the penalty reduced to a two-year suspension.

The AMS again requested access to Promiseland's records on May 9, 2008. The company provided a single box of company records, consisting primarily of cattle invoices. Then, on June 4, in order to enforce the two-year suspension, AMS filed a formal administrative complaint against Promiseland and Mr. Zeman.

Upon receipt of the complaint, Promiseland and Zeman will have 20 calendar days to file their answer, but the case may take months to be closed, depending partly on the caseload of USDA's Office of Administrative Law Judges. Meanwhile, unless it is surrendered, suspended, or revoked, Promiseland's organic certification will remain legally valid during the complaint process.

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