Information Update: Organic Valley’s Anti-Raw Milk Policy

Dear Members,

As many of you may have already heard, the CROPP cooperative, producer of dairy
products and other foodstuffs under the Organic Valley (OV) and Organic Prairie
labels, voted at their May 13 board meeting to prohibit any of the CROPP farmer
members from selling raw milk as a side business.  The vote was a close one-four in
favor, three against, reflecting the division of opinion among the CROPP board members
themselves.  After the Board vote, the cooperative took the decision to their Dairy
Executive Committee (DEC) for further discussion and another vote.  The result was a
split, 20 votes in favor and 20 against. This policy is to take effect January 1,
2011.

We at WAPF did not immediately publicize this new policy, instead writing privately
to CROPP CEO George Siemon and the members of the board, urging them to reconsider
and take the issue back to the board for further discussion and another vote.  In
our letter, we addressed some of what we felt were misguided issues that led to the
cooperatives anti-raw milk stance, such as potential liability to CROPP and
marketplace competition, pointing out that these were grossly inflated and not
legitimate concerns; we noted the potential downside to CROPPs reputation as a
supporter of family farms; and, most importantly, we pointed out that the new policy
would impose severe economic hardship on many farmers, farmers the co-op was founded
to protect.  (For a discussion and rebuttal of CROPPs concerns about raw milk, see
below.)

Many of CROPPs farmers have high levels of debt, and they have, over the past few
years, faced new financial burdens with lower pay prices and quotas that CROPP had
in place for the past yearin some cases amounting to a 30 percent reduction in
income.  Their financial situation is recovering somewhat now, but many are
challenged to make up for past losses.

Many of their farmers had active raw milk businesses established before they even
joined the cooperative, many operating in states where the enterprise is
unquestionably legal.  Others developed raw milk customers after their incomes
dropped, allowing these farms to remain solvent.  The new policy will force these
farmers to choose between remaining a CROPP member or selling raw milk exclusively,
either of which will likely lead to severe financial stress or even bankruptcy and
possible loss of the family farm.

Despite our grave concerns, I received a response from George Siemon dated June 21,
2010, stating that the anti-raw milk policy would remain in effect.  In the letter,
Siemon insisted that CROPP is not against raw milk, and that we are standing on the
same side of the river in supporting organic and local food, agricultural reform and
corporate reform.

Is that true?  CROPP did indeed start small, as a local cooperative of just a few
dozen vegetable farmers, the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool.  The co-ops seven
dairy producers soon branched out from produce to include cheese and eventually
other dairy products.  Unfortunately, in so doing, they opted for the industrial
model.  Instead of producing what consumers were asking for dairy products as natural
as possible, such as low-temperature, non-homogenized milk. CROPP chose to market
ultra-high temperature (UHT), homogenized industrial-style milk and cream.  (UHT
processing takes milk to 230 degrees F, way above the boiling point, thereby killing
every enzyme and immune-supporting factor in the milk.)  When they branched out into
eggs, they chose the industrial organic confinement model, instead of pastured
poultry, something their grass-based farmers were perfectly positioned to do.  Their
raw cheese is actually heated to above 150 degrees.  They also sell an Organic
Valley brand of soy milk.

We then further delayed making any announcement about the OV decision because we
were working behind the scenes with representatives of the co-op, and hoping that OV
would reconsider. However, at their most recent board meeting, the board voted 7-0
that raw milk sales by their producers must not exceed 1 percent of their volume,
and must be limited to family, friends and neighbors.  While some board members have
insisted that this anti-raw milk policy will not be enforced, we hear from others in
the organization that OV is planning to strenuously enforce the policy.

In any event, for the average OV farmer, 1 percent is probably about three to six
gallons per day, so the updated policy merely puts a gloss on the original anti-raw
milk stance.  The new policy will mean that thousands of consumers who need raw milk
for their own and their childrens health will no longer be able to obtain it.

Ironically, the $12 billion dairy industry giant, Dean Foods, which owns the Horizon
Organic label, the largest conventional and organic dairy producer in the United
States, has specifically stated that its farmers are free to sell or provide raw
milk on the side.  Dean Foods/Horizon the good guys and Organic Valley hurting
family farmers-this picture seems upside down.

This isn’t the first time CROPP seems to have lost its bearings.  A couple of years
ago, the management opted to buy some of their milk from a 7200-cow industrial dairy
located in an arid part of Texas, until some of their farmer-members found out and
put an end to the lunacy-both their farmers and consumers saw the move as a violation
of trust.  Organic Valley has always represented itself as being pro-family
farmer-their management shouldn’t need to be reminded that a 7200-cow dairy is not a
family farm!

Just as in the case of buying from factory farms, we hope CROPP farmer leadership
will come to their senses and rescind their destructive anti-raw milk policy.

The unfortunate decision by the CROPP board should galvanize all of us to renew our
efforts to purchase as much of our food as possible directly from local farmers; if
your only choice for dairy foods and eggs is the local health food store or
cooperative, make a point of purchasing from the local dairy producers listed in our
Shopping Guide.  Farmer-friendly brands such as Natural by Nature and farmstead
dairy producers such as Traders Point Creamery, among many others, are highly rated
in The Cornucopia Institute’s organic dairy scorecard (ratings of all 120 organic
brands www.cornucopia.org) and deserve our food dollars.  Another good choice is to
purchase raw grass-fed butter from one of our many advertisers in Wise Traditions
and have it shipped to you.

If the farm family you get your raw milk from faces the dilemma of choosing between
CROPP and direct raw milk sales, please express your support for them and do
everything you can to help them choose the latter.  You can help them build their
customer base, reduce their expenses by offering help on the farm, and even provide
the funding and financial advice they may desperately need to make the transition.
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund can help assist with advice and model
cow-share and herd-share agreements.

If you feel betrayed by a cooperative that you had always considered to be an ally,
you can also visit their website, www.organicvalley.coop, and let them know how you
feel.  Maybe if they hear from enough of us, they will realize the damage they are
doing to their brands reputation.  Please consider forwarding this message to your
friends and family members who might also want to convey their feelings to Organic
Valley management.

Above all, lets all make the pledge to vote with our pocketbooks in support of small
farmers and artisan producers instead of large commercial dairy interests that put
their profits before the interests of the hard-working farmers who produce their
milk and other commodities.

Sincerely yours,
Sally Fallon Morell, President
The Weston A. Price Foundation

———————————————————
COMMENTS ON OV MANAGEMENT OBJECTIONS TO RAW MILK SALES BY THEIR MEMBERS
The following is a brief analysis of some of the rationale Organic Valley management
and board members used in making their decision to ban and then severely limit the
amount of raw milk their members could sell.

LEGAL LIABILITY
The Board articulated concerns about Organic Valley being sued if one of their
farmers, selling raw milk, ran into legal trouble. This concern is dubious at best.
Farmer-members of the cooperative are independent businesses.  Until their truck
picks up member milk, Organic Valley has no legal responsibility for it, or for
unrelated sales of other milk.

MARKETPLACE FALLOUT
The Board expressed concern that if one of the Organic Valley members selling raw
milk ran into trouble, and was the subject of widespread publicity, some of that
manure flying around could stick on the Organic Valley label.
However, most intelligent consumers are able to discern the difference between
locally distributed raw milk and Organic Valley products on the store shelves.

To mitigate this risk, without harming farmer-members who are engaged in raw milk
commerce, it was suggested suggest that the co-op could:

1.  Require any member that sells raw milk to immediately take down their Organic
Valley sign and not wear any clothing items embroidered with the OV logo.

2.  Prohibit any member that sells raw milk from discussing Organic Valley in any
regard with their customers, the public or news media.  Nothing should be done to
overtly or covertly identify them as an Organic Valley member-supplier.  If a
problem were to occur, it is unlikely the news media would be interested in where
the wholesale portion of the farms milk was being shipped to (and then pasteurized).

COMPETITIVE FACTORS
Raw milk sales are booming all around the country.

Consumers are going to continue to seek out raw milk.  Whatever market share raw
milk achieves, as the marketplace matures, will be accomplished whether or not
Organic Valley implements its raw milk ban.  The ban might retard growth,
temporarily, but the growth will recover as non-OV farmers fill in the gaps.

However, in the meantime, this new co-op rule stands to economically injure many of
its members. Many of these families operate in states where selling raw milk is
unquestionably legal.

Consumers who drink raw milk are not going back to drinking OVs ultrapasteurized
fluid milk.  From a competitive standpoint they are buying a different product than
Organic Valley is selling.  Depending on how the coverage of this issue escalates,
it could bring heightened attention to the fact that most of Organic Valley milk is
ultrapasteurized.

DISRUPTIONS TO SUPPLY
The co-op has been concerned that sometimes their trucks show up at a farm that also
sells raw milk, and the bulk tank is empty.  This is obviously a waste of time,
money and diesel fuel.  Furthermore, the cooperative makes production plans, let’s
say to fill up a cheese vat with milk, and if the farmer has instead sold it to raw
milk customers, it throws a real monkey wrench into their production plans.  This is
the one concern of the cooperative that seems legitimate.

However, a workable solution could be crafted by requiring raw milk producers to
make a commitment in terms of overall volume, or percentage volume of their dairy
herd, to the cooperative.  They would need to contractually fulfill that commitment
before they could divert milk to raw milk sales.

VIABLE ALTERNATIVE
Implementing these suggestions, or variations thereof, would be a viable alternative
to the present prohibition on raw milk sales.  Everyone would win.  Farmers would
maintain their income, consumers could choose between pasteurized and raw milk, and
the cooperatives interest would be protected.

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© 2013 The Weston A. Price Foundation for Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and the Healing Arts.