This is an e-mail that I received from the Weston Price Foundation:
ORGANIC VALLEYS ANTI-RAW MILK POLICY
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 onefour in favor, three againstreflecting 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 droppedallowing 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 fordairy products as natural as possible, such as low-temperature, non-homogenized milkCROPP 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 farmersthis 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 lunacyboth their farmers and consumers saw the move as a violation of trust. Organic Valley has always represented itself as being pro-family farmertheir 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.