Aurora Organic Dairy yesterday revealed it had signed an agreement with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in response to a notice of proposed revocation served on its operations earlier this year. The agreement was made after the company was found to have breeched some of the standards outlined under the National Organic Programme (NOP) regulations. The agreement requires Aurora to address the concerns during a year-long probationary period. The decision could hinder the reputation of US organic dairy goods both domestically and abroad, as processors become increasingly keen to use the certification to attract the ethically and environmentally-minded consumer. Under the agreement, Aurora is required to ensure cattle at its Platteville site in Colorado have daily access to pasture during the growing season. The company will also have to reduce its herd size to meet maximum levels allowed for the size of its grazing areas at the facility. Of these cows, those that do not comply with the organic regulation must be removed from the herd. Aurora will be unable to sell their milk as an organic product. Aurora has also agreed not to renew its organic certification for its site at Woodward, Colorado. The company is also filing new organic systems plans for its Platteville, Colorado and Dublin ,Texas operations. The group must begin signing contracts with animal suppliers for its Texan plant to verify the organic status of animals bought to the site, under the terms. The AMS said the measures had been decided following an investigation into Aurora's plants after complaints alleged that the company provided insufficient pasture for its animals. In its findings, the regulatory body said it had found cases of improper transitioning of its cattle for organic use, as well as a failure to maintain "adequate records". The USDA warned there would be severe consequences for the company if these new measures were not adhered to. "If AMS finds the terms of the consent agreement are not being met, then the agreement will be withdrawn and AMS could revoke the organic certification for Aurora's Platteville plant," the department said. After a recent review by the USDA of its standards on organic goods, Bruce Knight, the department's under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said the decision reflected increased scrutiny now faced by organic dairy groups. "The organic industry is booming and the National Organic Programme is a high priority for USDA," he stated. "Through this consent agreement consumers can be assured that milk labeled as organic in the supermarket is indeed organic." The findings of the USDA were cautiously accepted by the Cornucopia Institute, which works for tighter standards on organic dairy products. The group claims that the measures were still not strict enough. "We are still not wholly satisfied with the outcome and enforcement action taken by the USDA," the group stated. "After years of delay Aurora, having expanded to five industrial scale dairies in Colorado and Texas, is still being allowed to remain in business despite being found guilty of multiple violations of organic law." However, Aurora welcomed the verdict by the USDA, claiming it dismissed wider criticisms of how it operated. Company president Mark Retzloff said the decision would allow them to further improve the quality of its products to its consumers "This result allows us to accelerate the transformation of our Platteville organic dairy farm," he stated. "Through cooperation with the USDA at all levels, we will remain focused on our mission of making high-quality organic milk and butter more affordable and available." Ensuring the company retains organic certification could be vital for the group, with the market coming under ever-increasing demand amongst consumers in recent years. US sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1bn (€744m) in 1990 to nearly $17bn (€12.6bn) in 2006. Organic food sales are projected to reach $23.8bn (€17bn) for 2010, according to figures from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the USDA. The organic industry is viewed as the fastest growing sector of agriculture, currently representing nearly 3 per cent of overall food and beverage sales, according to government statistics. Since 1990, organic retail sales have historically demonstrated a growth rate between 20 to 24 per cent each year including a 22 per cent increase in 2006. Though the issue is likely to remain ongoing within the US, a spokesperson for the UK organic body the Soil Association told DairyReporter.com that consumers within both the UK and the EU could rest assured over the quality and standards of organic dairy. Any products claiming to be organically certified from outside the EU, are additionally required to adhere to European rules. The Soil Association added that dairy exports wishing to be sold as organic in the UK had to comply with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' standards.