cows dairy farm

AP

To label milk “organic,” the US Department of Agriculture mandates that cows graze fresh grass in fertilizer-free, open-air pastures.

Consumers can pay twice as much for certified organic milk compared to non-organic milk. But according to a new investigation by The Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey, some organic dairy farms may not be adhering to USDA standards.

In 2016, the Post visited Aurora Organic Dairy in Greeley, Colorado — a facility that supplies organic milk to major retailers like Walmart and Costco. Whoriskey found about 90% of its cows were indoors — not grazing on pastures— over the span of his eight-day visit. Testing by Virginia Tech scientists also revealed that on a key indicator of grass-feeding, Aurora milk matched normal milk, not organic.

After visits to seven other farms in Texas and New Mexico in 2015, another Post reporter saw similarly vacant pastures.

Though dairy farms can make more money by selling organic milk, the process of organic certification is time-consuming and costly. Transitioning to a certified-organic farm takes three years, and the certification ranges from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

To enforce organic regulations, the USDA lets farmers hire and pay their own inspectors to certify them as “organic,” which saves the agency money. But the Post…