If you've ever purchased Great Value organic milk at Walmart, we have bad news for you: Per an in-depth investigation at the Washington Post, that supposedly organic milk is actually pretty similar to conventional milk. The Post investigated Aurora Organic Dairy, one of the largest organic operations in the US, which supplies the organic milk for the house brands at Walmart, Costco, and other big retailers. Its findings were pretty grim: In order to be certified as organic under USDA standards, cows must be allowed to graze freely on grass for a certain amount of time, and the Post's observations made it look unlikely that many of Aurora's cows are doing that. And it shows: Cows who graze make milk with a different chemical makeup than cows who are kept indoors and fed corn or other grains, but Aurora's milk tested at levels closer to conventional milk.
The organic industry is massive, with $6 billion in organic dairy sales last year in the US, and organic producers can sell their milk for nearly double the price of conventional milk. But it also costs significantly more to produce organic milk, and if big dairies like Aurora are skirting USDA requirements, it gives them an unfair advantage over smaller producers who are doing things right. The Post delves into the USDA process for certifying products organic; in what the paper calls an "unorthodox" move, dairies are allowed to hire their own inspectors. In the case of Aurora, those inspectors performed their annual audit after grazing season was over, so they "were poorly positioned to know" whether the dairy was meeting the USDA's grazing requirements, per the Post. The full piece, which includes Aurora's response to the testing and a look at past run-ins the dairy has had with the USDA, is worth a read. (Read more organic milk stories.)