Scott TrautmanIt’s been nearly a year since Scott Trautman lost his Wisconsin Grade A dairy license, depriving him of the opportunity to sell his dairy’s milk to processors for pasteurization.

He was the victim of a coordinated crackdown by dairy processors and Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection on dairies selling raw milk. In an effort to punish Trautman for his ongoing criticisms of the agency and its unbridled support of the conventional dairy industry, DATCP has rebuffed his efforts to recover his license. But Trautman has refused to be intimidated, and in this article, discusses his personal campaign to come up with a new brand of high-quality raw milk, backed by realistic standards. The campaign is in its early stages, and Trautman in this guest post invites comments, questions, and suggestions for where this campaign should go.

by Scott Trautman

In my ten years starting, running and, in 2004, selling a small Internet service company, I had faith that providing excellent service, and treating others as I wished to be treated, is the best policy, for business, and life. I came to realize that it takes real intelligence, real strength to do your business right and still be successful, far more than it does to cheat, cut corners, leave the world a worse place. I designed checks and balances in my Internet business to ensure good things would happen when I did good, and bad things happen when I did bad. I have tried to recreate those same types of systems now with my dairy business near Madison, and the brand I am pioneering, Wisconsin Fresh Milk.

My intention is to build the finest brand of dairy products anywhere. Not the largest. In fact, the first check and balance is to limit the brand to only true family farms completely capable of having the uniform pride across each member – the ownership interest – the benefit and the potential loss if done incorrectly. Eventually,  there will be a collection of family farms, taking advantage of scale and uniform marketing, without giving in to the many negatives of large size.

Sounds great, but so much talk so far. Details are needed, and details you shall have.

By way of background, the Wisconsin Grade A standard does not suit the system I am trying to create one tiny bit. I can take you to Grade A farms that are disgusting, horrible, and completely inconsistent with the high-minded values I discussed at the outset. Which is how things are working out, because the corrupt masters of Grade A, the handful of so-called public servants that are part of Food Safety, refuse to allow me a license.

I was angry at first a year ago when the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection took my Grade A license. But now I thank them for that, and for getting into my life and forcing me out to do all the work I have done. Had I not been outed, had I been given my license back, I wouldn’t be here now. And what I will do will be progress, a better future for more than just my farm.

Understand Grade A as a brand. This brand in Wisconsin is built up to be something worth having. Go looking, and you will find, as you do with many brands, those that eventually fail, wide variation as to what that brand is. Those that build the brand on one end, and those that erode the brand at the other.

The Grade A brand is built on rigid rules; many many of them, too, that in the system they are in, can be used in a positive way, toward producing safe food,, or, arbitrarily to punish even those that would be the very model of the brand, such as our farm. Would our state be a better place if all farms operated as we do on our 130-acre, 40-cow dairy? I believe if you saw it, you would resoundingly answer affirmatively. Yet, no license can I get. Thank you again, Food Safety, for making it so clear what I need to do, and what needs to be done to you.

Is the idea of inspection, rules, outside oversight a bad idea? If you are ruled by ego, then yes, it is a bad idea. One inspector can make your life miserable in such a situation. Rigid, outdated, often arbitrary rules, not applied for the public’s interest, which is safe dairy products.

I have designed a different kind of inspection system, and am presenting the highlights here as part of an ongoing process of public consideration. My success to date has been in taking good information from many and applying it to create situations that minimize risks, maximize returns, with checks and balances in each part, at critical junctures, to catch problems before they become problems. None of this is covered by “Grade A”.

The Wisconsin Fresh Milk brand will reflect a variety of values, like diversified and sustainable practicesl But for now I want to focus only on the inspection process, to help create safe dairy products, especially raw dairy products. Almost anyone can produce milk fit for pasteurization. Their pay for that milk reflects that skill.

I have listened to what the ‘enemies’ of raw milk have said, really listened, and I have heard. No, I do not believe that raw milk is like playing Russian roulette with your health. That is an arrogant irresponsible statement. Yet what I do hear, and will act upon, is the idea that raw dairy products do not have ‘the benefit’ – the check for unsafe practices – that pasteurized milk does. That means I need to be extra safe. I have also listened to the other end of the spectrum, that anything in the raw milk, even including pathogents, is good. Well, no, I don’t believe quite in that, either. As always, somewhere in the middle is as close to ‘truth’ as we’re going to get.

I have designed a holistic (whole-istic) system that encompasses everything that makes up a glass of raw milk. The main components are:

– Dairy systems: Milk harvest and distribution, including all the mechanical systems that touch milk, and their facilities. This is pretty much all that Grade A covers to an inferior standard. This includes testing.

– Animal Health: Healthy milk comes from healthy animals, and operators that keep healthy animals – and in addition recognizes sickness, and removes sick animals from the milk line, maximizing the probability of safe milk.

– Whole farm: Healthy animals come from healthy soils on well managed farms. This is the catch-all to ensure that even if the rest is done properly, that problems don’t crop up. For example, with excellent management, and a whole lot of drugs et al, animal health can be maintained – but one slip up and you have a huge problem. In a well managed system, forgiveness is built in—the key being strong immune systems–even if there is a slipup.

I have three inspectors to review each of these three operations, ask me questions, fill out a certain amount of paperwork, and provide me guidance as to how to improve what I am doing. Each serves as an extra set of eyes and a brain to make sure I am seeing everything the way it should be seen.

I have so far had one-and-a-half of these inspections; the other one-and-a-half will come in the next few weeks as time allows for all. Here is a recap on who is doing what.

Dairy systems inspection: Art Johnson, with 30 years experience in the dairy industry, as a field man, as someone involved in dairy plant operations. As one example, he inspected my pipeline and milk storage system. I have an inspection report. It includes sensible suggestions, most of which I will implement. He will be coming back to review our milking process; startup and shutdown, and the milking in between. This includes our testing procedure, our bottle filling procedure. At each point, what are the identified risks? How can we minimize them?

Animal Health: This is handled by my veterinarian. Vets are not comfortable one tiny bit being involved in raw milk, because of pressures from their profession. Makes me think the less for their profession. Rigid arrogant ignorant thinking. Too bad on that. But I have been fortunate enough to attract two flexible clear-thinking veterinarians. They have been out and have been able to fit what I want–herd health type examinations–into existing structures. They also reviewed our handling and milking process, as well as our recordkeeping system and, as I requested, we reviewed zoonotic diseases and their transmission, and what could be done about them. I think I have gotten these professionals to think a little about accepting this ridiculous idea that any cow anywhere under any circumstances can be a zoonotic disease carrier, to the degree that no one ought drink raw milk. Yes, that is altogether too convenient; lazy, really. Go asking for the studies. You won’t find them. Yet all opposed to raw milk believes they exist. Ignorance from supposed professionals. A system rife with them.

Importantly to the point, we reviewed our observation and decision-making process, for identifying potentially sick animals, and where we draw the line to keep their milk out of the system. As with so many of these types of things, I learned something new, and already have plans to implement suggestions to improve our overall system.

Whole Farm: Gary Zimmer is a well respected author and leader in agriculture, and especially in dairy. It is Gary’s ideas of soil health that have brought our farm to the wonderful position of abundance and health that currently exists, via the Albrecht school of thought on soil fertility and the resultant animal – and then human health. His MBA – Mineralized, Balanced Agriculture – is geared toward answering two questions.

1. What are you doing for the health of your soil?

2. And What are you doing for the health of your animals?

If you respond arrogantly – say, with a two word response like, “I Graze” – for each of them – you fail. If you respond in a well thought through manner that reflects all the same kinds of checks and balances you’d have in any good system, you pass. And there can be more than one way to achieve the goal, which is a fantastic way to go about creating a system. A vulnerability recognized here, a check and balance there, adding up to well thought through and safe system.

The Food Safety division of DATCP is out of control–arrogant, ignorant, bullying, and sick. Time will be required for legislators and justice authorities to catch up with the agency’s malfeasance. In the meantime, I will show my dedication to safety and improvement, most especially for those that will defend us against this evil. This is an extraordinary time requiring extraordinary people to show their meddle. I hope that my efforts, beyond our farm, will help bring about a New Golden Age of Dairy in Wisconsin. A time of peace, prosperity and health for Wisconsin’s proud family farmers.

Despite the very best efforts of the State of Wisconsin, I continue to be Proud Wisconsin Dairyman, Scott Trautman.?