While attention has been riveted on the efforts of Big Dairy to push public officials to roll back or prevent availability of raw milk in states like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, a more ominous trend has been quietly taking shape among the nation’s milk cooperatives and processors. These are the organizations that buy conventional milk in bulk from dairy farmers, pasteurize it, and distribute it to retailers around the country. A growing number of these outfits are refusing to buy milk from dairies that sell or distribute raw milk.

Wisconsin dairyman Scott Trautman was one of the first to feel the sting of the emerging new policy when Midwest cooperative Foremost Farms cut him off after learning about his raw milk activities, and cost him his Grade A dairy license.

In Missouri (per Pete’s report following my previous post), Mark and Leesa Robinson report that Central Equity Milk Cooperative, a cooperative of a couple hundred dairies, notified them that their dairy would have to discontinue raw milk sales if it wanted to continue selling to the cooperative.

And now, one of the biggest names in dairy has adopted the same policy. The seven-farmer board of Organic Valley, with 1,600 dairy members in 33 states and four Canadian provinces, voted last week to require its raw-milk-selling members to exit the business if they want to continue selling milk via Organic Valley.

Organic Valley hasn’t announced the decision yet–I learned about it from a couple of sources, and yesterday the cooperative confirmed the decision. The cooperative, which was founded in 1988 with “a founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming,” put me in touch with one of its board members and its chief executive, and they painted a picture of an agonizing decision-making process that has divided the cooperative over the last year.

It seems a number of Organic Valley dairies selling conventional milk have become increasingly rattled by the success many of their counterparts are having selling raw milk directly to consumers. “Raw milk sales for some of our people became a majority of their business,” explained Travis Forgue, a Vermont dairy owner who is on the Organic Valley board, and who voted for banning raw dairy farmers from the co-op. “This did not sit well with some farmers.”

He also said there was concern that Organic Valley could somehow be held liable if raw milk from one of its members made consumers ill, though he acknowledged Organic Valley’s own lawyer hadn’t agreed there was a serious danger, or that there were any other cases in which a processor was sued. Even in our litigious society, it’s difficult to imagine how a dairy co-op could be held liable because one of its members sold raw milk or ran a cowshare. Sounds like a neat effort at an excuse.

In any event, it looks as if two groups are now facing important choices:

1. Dairy farmers selling raw milk on a part-time basis will be under growing pressure to make a decision–turn away from raw dairy to continue selling milk at $1.50 a gallon to the cooperative, or shift entirely to selling raw milk, at $5 to $10 a gallon. At Organic Valley, CEO George Siemon is charged with coming up with the “implementation plan,” and he foresees perhaps a six-month grace period for dairies in the raw milk business to make up their mind.

2. Consumers will have to decide how committed they are to their raw dairy providers, and whether they can help the providers increase their sales. As the Robinsons put it on Facebook:
“So basically and realistically we can’t afford to be in business with Central Equity. They are backing us into a wall in forcing us to choose. But we can’t keep our dairy operating without increasing our customer base. So we must get the sales of our raw milk up so we can keep our doors open.”

Organic Valley’s board member, Travis Forgues, makes the same challenge to raw dairy farmers, whom he estimates number 200 or more of Organic Valley’s dairy members: “If that’s the business you want to be in, then do raw milk.” Of course, there are hundreds of other dairies that sell to other co-ops and processors selling raw milk on a part-time basis.

I was pretty pessimistic when I first heard about the Organic Valley decision, but having read what Miguel and Mark McAfee have to say in their comments following my previous post, I am less so. Sometimes, these seemingly devastating actions have a way of clarifying the situation for the better, and forcing decisions that, while painful during the short-term, are the best decisions for the long term. Here, the situation is starkly clear:

The established dairy industry is terribly threatened by the growing popularity of raw milk, so much so that Big Dairy is pulling out all the stops to savage the competition. Big Dairy is being egged on by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state public health and agriculture regulators, or maybe it’s the other way around.  Doesn’t really matter.

Are there violations of antitrust laws going on here? Hopefully the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is considering that question.

The legal process moves in slow motion, though. More immediately, consumers will have their opportunity to make a difference. They must re-double their personal commitments to support raw dairy producers by buying more raw milk, perhaps much more than they need. They must get their friends who value locally-produced food purchasing raw milk. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Support raw dairies big time, or you’ll lose your raw milk entirely.


It’s not as if we need further evidence of the Wisconsin governor’s hypocrisy in vetoing the raw milk legislation last week, but there’s this newspaper article about he signed a law allowing sales of canned goods by home-based businesses, while vetoing the milk bill. Guess the canning lobby couldn’t come up with enough to satisfy the guv.


I’d also like to say something about Lykke, and her apparent departure from the blog. I know a number of people thought she was a troll, some kind of paid agent, but I never felt that way. Doesn’t mean people aren’t entitled to their opinions. I certainly never meant to “chastise” anyone for holding such a view. I don’t have any proof either way, it’s just I sense a paid agent would do more monitoring and less posting, and the posting wouldn’t be as thoughtful as it often was. I’m not even sure it matters, since what was most important was the educational part–certainly I learned from her, and hopefully she learned from us (even if she didn’t often admit it).  I thought she was treated harshly by many at the end. If she’s still reading the blog, it’s my view that there was nothing personal, but rather she was a convenient whipping boy, as it were, for all the frustrations people have with food officialdom and its general reluctance to discuss openly the real issues around raw milk and food rights…and I hope she returns at some point.